It was only recently that I realized I had spent a great deal of time in not one, but two relationships where I was the victim of breadcrumbing. Although the term breadcrumbing is relatively new, the acts behind it are not.
What exactly is breadcrumbing?
Breadcrumbing is basically the act of leading someone on. The person doing the breadcrumbing has no real interest in the same type of commitment to the relationship (romantic, social, intimate, etc) that the other person desires. Still, the breadcrumber enjoys the attention or special favors gained from associating with the other person, so they do just enough to keep that person seeking more through superficial acts of interest and flirtation. In the end however, the breadcrumber never gives the other person the full relationship they are seeking and often ends up hurting them through abandonment, false expectations, and empty promises.
The breadcrumber often shows interest when they want something and once they get it, they go back to being elusive and self-absorbed. Most of the time, the person being breadcrumbed eventually realizes that they are being led on, but often continue to deal with the other person in hopes that eventually the breadcrumbing will stop, and the other person will genuinely desire the same type of relationship with them that they are seeking.
Breadcrumbing happens a lot in dating and relationships where one person is looking for commitment and is being strung along by the breadcrumber who does just enough to give their “victim” hope. It can also happen in other relationships as well such as friendships where one friend is constantly seeking connection while the other entertains the friend when it benefits them and then basically disappears when it doesn’t. It can even happen at work in situations such as a supervisor giving you extra responsibilities and hope saying you’ll get promoted one day, but that day never seems to come.
Breadcrumbing can cause the person being subjected to the breadcrumbing to undergo emotional stress, anxiety and even depression due to breadcrumbing being inconsistent and lacking integrity. More severe forms of breadcrumbing can even border on the lines of manipulation, emotional abuse, and narcissistic behavior.
Sometimes it’s hard to identify if you’re being breadcrumbed because usually the person being breadcrumbed is unsure of how the other person feels about them. They know how they feel about the breadcrumber, but they get mixed signals in return. Often this can make the person feel like they’re on an emotional rollercoaster.
I know in once incident when I was being breadcrumbed, every time I thought this person and I were finally crossing over the line of friendship into a romantic relationship, she’d back off only to come back around again whenever she was going through personal problems and again we’d get close, spend a lot of time together and practically be in a relationship only for her to put distance between us again. It was painful. Sometimes she’d tell me she wasn’t ready for a relationship only to get into a relationship with someone else. Of course when that relationship (and the next, and the next) didn’t work out, she’d come back around and I would hope that this time would be different, but it never was.
This lead to me having a lot of anxiety, self-doubt and insecurity which is a very common experience when you’re being breadcrumbed.
Breadcrumbing can also lead to relationship dependence because of the inconsistency and false hope given to the person being breadcrumbed. They keep showing up and trying in hopes of one day winning the lottery and somedays they feel like they get so close to picking the lucky numbers that it’s hard to stop playing even when it seems hopeless.
Like I said, the young lady I was being breadcrumbed by often spend so much time together talking, or going out for dinner or drinks that it very often felt like we were a couple, but only when she wanted to. More often than not we’d make plans only for her to cancel them at the last minute.
The breadcrumber has all the power over approval, attention and acceptance which adds to the relationship dependency. The person being breadcrumbed always wants to be in the company of the breadcrumber, but the breadcrumber only comes around when it benefits them in some way. They usually aren’t really there when the person being breadcrumbed needs them, yet the person still holds out hope that one day that will change.
Sadly, often times the breadcrumber doesn’t really care about the person being breadcrumber or they are too emotionally unavailable to offer more than what they are giving. Perhaps they are already in a committed relationship or are holding out for what they perceive is their ideal person and until then, they will take what they can get from you.
Eventually the person being breadcrumbed usually realizes that they have been wasting their time, energy, money and attention on someone who is not going to return it in the way that they desire and deserve.
For me it took years and multiple times being hurt and disappointed before I realize that it was never going to happen. By then I had suffered through bouts of loneliness, low-self esteem and even depression because as much as I wanted our relationship to work, it was always leaving me feeling as if I weren’t good enough.
People who do the breadcrumbing aren’t usually bad people. Yes, sometimes they are narcissistic and just want to hurt and use you (those tend to be bad people), but often they actually like you, just not in the same way you like them or they just can’t give you what you want. They don’t want to totally let you go because they realize you have a lot to offer. Exes often do breadcrumbing because they haven’t really moved on or they don’t want you to move on, for example.
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if you deserve to be treated better than the way the breadcrumber is treating you and if that answer is yes, then it’s time to move on from that relationship and seek the fulfilling relationship you deserve with someone who wants the same thing.