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What is breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is exactly what it sounds like — think about Hansel and Gretel using breadcrumbs to lead them back home. Breadcrumbing is when someone tries to lure love interests by way of “breadcrumbs” (small, flirtatious gestures) without having any intention of following through with these gestures. In other words, it is the act of leading someone on. These gestures may look like a spontaneous phone call, a cute text, or a comment on social media followed by silence. You may feel like you’re receiving mixed signals or may not know how interested the other person is in you. Examples of someone who is breadcrumbing you are people who text you constantly but avoid actual attempts to hangout, someone who comments on all your social media posts but never engages in a direct conversation, or the infamous “you up?” text in the middle of the night. It may be very difficult to identify breadcrumbing or to confuse morsels of attention as genuine interest especially if you genuinely like the person. 

How does breadcrumbing affect me?

Being breadcrumbed can cause a lot of distress and emotional pain, especially if you are genuinely interested in the person. It may be difficult for you to keep track of the mixed signals the person is giving you and understanding where you stand. Some new research on breadcrumbing has indicated that people being strung along tend to have an increased sense of helplessness, loneliness, and feelings of rejection. Research also found that breadcrumbing triggered substance use and other addictive behaviors. Moreover, research specifically found that breadcrumbing, in comparison to other non-comical behaviors (e.g., ghosting), had the most negative effects on people’s mental health.

How do I deal with breadcrumbing?

One of the most important things to do when dealing with breadcrumbing is learning to identify when it’s happening to you. Some warning signs of breadcrumbing are showing more interest in them than they do in you, they appear hot and cold, they only have a physical/sexual interest in you, or you don’t know where you stand with them. Other helpful tips to consider are to avoid giving into their breadcrumbs (e.g., avoid responding to that late, “you up?” text).  You can also call it out when you feel like you are being led on. Try being honest and saying something like, “it really frustrates me when you say you want to hangout but never actually try to hangout.” Finally, it is important to reflect on your own needs and prioritize them. Use healthy boundaries to prioritize yourself and limit how much access the individual has to you. 

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.