Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

When my friend first mentioned the term “bread-crumbing” to me, I immediately thought of
Hansel and Gretel – specifically when they left breadcrumbs in their wake. Maybe some of
you thought the same thing that I did. Regardless, I think the image is quite apt.

So, what is bread-crumbing, exactly? A breadcrumber will provide “small morsels of
interest”, like the sporadic message, plans to meet up, phone call, or interaction on social
media. More often than not, there is no follow-through with any of these. Bread-crumbing, at
its barebones, is leading someone on. It’s often seen as worse than ghosting. At least with
ghosting, there is a sense of finality, and no false hope.

When you’re on the brink of giving up, they’ll chase after you more and give you more
attention. However, when you pick up all the breadcrumbs they leave for you, you’ll look up
and realise that your trail doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a tactic based in emotional manipulation
with the intention of ensuring that someone becomes dependent on them, or vice versa.

This may seem quite broad and ambiguous, so here are some signs so that you can figure out
whether you are (or aren’t) being bread-crumbed – perhaps you’re the breadcrumber.
Breadcrumbers want to keep you interested, regardless of if they have any intentions to build
a relationship with you or not.

  1. They don’t reply to your messages for days or weeks, and then send some long
    messages without explanation as to why they went MIA.
  2. They’ll bring up common interests or shared experiences to strengthen the connection
    once again.
  3. The breadcrumber will make vague and ambiguous plans so that you think there’s a
    semblance of a future with them.
  4. They’ll imply that they really want to see you, but when you initiate plans, they’ll
    ignore you.
  5. The conversations you have with them are surface-level and shallow; they don’t show
    any interest in your day-to-day life.
  6. Mostly, they’ll communicate with photos, memes, or emojis.
  7. They want to be with you physically, but don’t want any connection outside of that
  8. They’ll breadcrumb you through different channels: maybe they’ll ignore your
    WhatsApp’s but will comment on your Instagram or watch your story. This keeps
    them on your radar.
  9. The breadcrumber will make you feel as if it’s your fault, when it’s actually their
    problem. You might feel as if you did something wrong, as if it’s because of you that
    they don’t want to see you.

A breadcrumber usually doesn’t want to discard the chance of seeing you again. When you
withdraw or indicate that you’re losing interest, there’s a possibility that they’ll put more
effort into your connection- they’ll follow through with plans and contact you frequently, which is honestly the bare minimum. However, the pattern will repeat itself and you’ll be the
one getting hurt.

Why do people breadcrumb?

They like you, but aren’t keen to commit
Many people fear commitment. Perhaps they do want to connect, but don’t have enough
emotional availability to maintain any deeper involvement. They think you’re attractive and
enjoy chatting to you, hence the connection stays alive, but they aren’t ready to have anything
more meaningful, so they hold back.

They can’t let go
They aren’t ready to say goodbye – this applies to an ex as well. Perhaps all parties have
decided to end the relationship and move forward, but they keep sending the odd message
along the lines of “missed you today” or “this made me think of you”. This could be innocent – maybe they want to maintain a friendship with you but aren’t sure how to. They could also
have an ulterior motive.

If the breadcrumber doesn’t have any healthy friendships or relationships in their lives,
they’ll most likely find it easier to just have superficial connections. Bread-crumbing might be
a means to maintain their social connections, without realising that shallow relationships
don’t improve loneliness.

You’re the backup plan
This doesn’t really need much explanation. If they’re already in a relationship, then you’re on
the back burner in case things don’t work out.

They have low self-esteem
Their self-esteem is affected by the degree of attention they receive from other people. This
may be because it makes them feel better about themselves, or they need constant external

They’re narcissistic
If they’re narcissistic, they don’t mind playing games with you and don’t feel guilty when it
comes to manipulation.

Reluctance to extend much time and energy
They may want to keep their dating investment as minimal as possible while still leaving the
door open, or they just want you to do all the work so that things are easier for them.

They’ve got a scarcity mindset
Some people breadcrumb because they think that the more connections they have, the better,
regardless of how deep they are. They may be worried that they don’t have enough of
anything, and this extends to relationships as well. Having connections may make them

How to respond to bread-crumbing

If you’ve noticed that you’re dealing with a breadcrumber, congrats on realising it! These
situations are tough, but moving forward means you won’t be wasting time with someone
who really doesn’t deserve you. Here are some ways to handle somebody who’s been leading
you along the breadcrumb trail:

  1. Suggest a date
    Be specific: give a time and a place. Usually, a breadcrumber will keep things virtual
    for that ego boost when they need it, and so that they know when they want you,
    you’re there. If this is all they’re looking for, the likelihood is that they won’t pitch up
    to the date and realise that you don’t want them to control the situation anymore.
  2. Adjust how you reply
    Instead of following their lead, change up the way you reply to them. If they message
    you late at night, don’t reply, and message the next day asking to meet up. Figure out
    where they want the limits of the relationships to be so that you can push them and
    see whether they want to make changes, or if it’s a dead-end.
  3. Let them know that cancelling on you isn’t cool
    Tell them upfront that what they’re doing is not okay and clarify that it’s up to them
    now- the ball is in their court. Don’t wait around for them. You could also be brave
    and ask them why they always cancel plans and never pull through. This could lead to
    an honest conversation and closure. Either way, you’ll be able to move forward with
    your life.
  4. Accept it for what it is
    If you’re truly fine with things between you solely being physical, then great! Enjoy
    the time you spend together. Have fun, and adjust your expectations, even though it
    might be hard.
  5. Bid them farewell
    Is the way you’re being treated having a severe impact on you? Are you questioning
    your self-worth or feeling anxious? If so, then say goodbye. Be firm and tell them
    why you’re ending things. Focus on loving yourself. Take care of yourself and be

Bread-crumbing can occur in friendships and marriages/long-term relationships as well. It
could also be poor communication. Not everyone is a natural at it, and some struggle at
conveying their interest and feelings in a way that is easy to comprehend. Text also can be
devoid of tone, or tone can be misread. A breadcrumber may not realise how they’re hurting
you. Regardless, it’s important to communicate how you feel, and where you’re at – whether
you’re tossing the breadcrumbs or picking them up.

I'm an aspiring writer and editor majoring in BA English, Linguistics and Media Studies at UCT. I love literature, reading (when not prescribed), poetry and the power words carry. I'm into the academia aesthetic and I love a good cup of tea.