What is Breadcrumbing and How to Know if it’s Happening to You (2024)

If you are struggling with a break-up and need to talk to someone, email lovebetter@youthline.co.nz or text “lovebetter” to 234.In an age where most of our relationships exist (or begin) in the digital world, we’ve had to create a whole new lexicon to define the dating patterns many people are experiencing.One new phrase you may have come across in the last few years is “breadcrumbing” – basically, the experience of being strung along by a potential flame.


While it sounds like a scene out of Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbing is a real problem and you’re not alone if it’s happened to you.VICE New Zealand spoke with Carly Dober, a psychologist and relationship expert from Enriching Lives Psychology to learn more about this modern dating conundrum.What is breadcrumbing?“Breadcrumbing occurs when someone pretends they’re interested in pursuing or developing a sincere relationship when they actually have no interest,” says Dober.This can look like sporadic communication, periodic flirting online, and not following through on plans that are made.But what’s the difference between breadcrumbing and straight up ghosting?“Ghosting refers to abruptly cutting off contact with someone without giving that person any warning or explanation for doing so,” says Dober.This is different to breadcrumbing because there’s a clearly defined start and end to the communication.“Whereas breadcrumbing can theoretically go on for as long as the behaviour continues,” says Dober. “The person never really goes away. It leaves the receiver thinking that there might be a chance.”Both ghosting and breadcrumbing can create distrust, jealousy and a hesitation to form relationships with other people in the future.How do I tell if I’m being breadcrumbed?While many of these behaviours can be isolated occurrences, it’s a cluster of them happening at the same time that means you could be being breadcrumbed.According to Dober, these behaviours include your date not committing to plans and leaving you hanging by the phone. For example, they said you’d hang out together on Saturday night, but now it’s 4pm and you have no idea where to meet them or if you should sack them off to go out with your mates.“They’ll [organise] a rough time with you and never follow up. You may notice they bristle when you bring up future plans,” says Dober.Another common behaviour of breadcrumbers is inconsistency in their communication. You never know when or where you’ll hear from them and your mood is dependent on when they can be bothered to text you.“The relationship is completely on their terms. You’re emotionally up and down when you do or don’t hear from them. You’re excited when they respond or reach out, and then confused and lonely when they go dark,” Dober notes.A 2023 study revealed that breadcrumbing has an impact on the person being breadcrumbed (the breadcrumbie’s, according to the study) future relationships, their level of emotional disturbance, their self-concept, and some even showed signs of depression.


“While the person engaging in the behaviour may think it’s not a big deal, it can be quite damaging to those on the receiving end,” Dober shares.What to do if you’re the breadcrumber or the breadcrumbieNot every person who breadcrumbs is a narcissistic douchebag taking pleasure in your confusion. It is, in fact, possible to breadcrumb someone without consciously knowing it.“For some people, there might be genuine life, physical and mental health issues that are preventing them from having stable and consistent communication with someone,” notes Dober.“They might have significant work or university stress, rental issues, they might have gambling or alcohol addictions, they might have someone in their life who is chronically unwell or dying. Many mental health conditions also impact the ability to make and maintain relationships, and can impact motivation and communication.”While this doesn’t totally excuse sh*tty behaviour, it may give the breadcrumbie some context into why the breadcrumber’s communication is sporadic.“All of these things are incredibly personal and difficult to talk about, so if you bring up what you’re observing, this could be an invitation for them to chat [with] you.”On the other hand, some people genuinely don’t know what they want, and could just be unsure about you. They might be nervous, not know how to communicate well, or they might be perfectly fine with being single and flirting and are trying to prevent any awkward conversations from happening.


If you’re wondering where you stand with a breadcrumber and can’t take another ‘sorry to bail’ text message, Dober has some advice.“You could say something like ‘I notice communication drops off between us and we make plans but then nothing actually happens. It’s confusing and I have people in my life who communicate more consistently, and this is what I’m looking for.’”“Or you could say, ‘I get the sense that maybe you like the attention and like to flirt and be flirted with which is fine, but I’m looking to date and be in a relationship. Are you looking for anything right now?’”While nerve-wracking, by asking these questions it’ll show that you see what the breadcrumber is doing and will hopefully open up communication.“Some people may be too scared to have this conversation because they fear that they’ll ruin the relationship,” says Dober. “But I question what kind of relationship involves people being too scared to talk to each other about what’s going on between them.”

What is Breadcrumbing and How to Know if it’s Happening to You (1)


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What is Breadcrumbing and How to Know if it’s Happening to You (2024)
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