Breadcrumbing – 5 Signals to Watch Out For and How to Deal With It

What is breadcrumbing in relationships?

Breadcrumbing is a behavior in which one partner essentially gives the other partner just enough energy, time, attention, affection, or words of affirmation that provide some of the elements of being in a romantic relationship.

However, the other partner is left still wanting. The partner who is on the receiving end may often feel they are being too needy or insecure because they feel mixed messages. They cognitively know they have received a series of loving behaviors from their partner, but because they lack substance, consistency, or deep connection behind them, the breadcrumbed partner is left without feeling an emotional connection that is fulfilling or satisfying.

I explain to my clients that it’s as though they are trying to make do with crumbs when what they really want is the whole cupcake. It is never going to be satisfying to try to scoop all these crumbs together and cobble them together into something real and tangible when it is full of holes, missed connections, or lacks the ingredients to create real substance.

5 signs of breadcrumbing

1 – Words Don’t Match Behaviors

So many of my clients get stuck on what their partner is saying and avoid really paying attention to evaluate if their behaviors are matching up with the words.

For example, if your partner says they love you and want to be in a committed relationship with you but never seem to make the time to spend with you or make plans with you, then they are not matching their words to their behavior. They are breadcrumbing you by throwing out a few crumbs to keep you on the hook but don’t actually ever seem committed with time or attention that reinforces an investment in the relationship.

2 -Endless Texts But Never an Actual Date

If you meet someone on a dating app, or even in a social situation, and you are stuck in a endless loop of flirty texts and messages but never a commitment to actually meet, then you are being breadcrumbed. If the other person gets to drop in and out of your life on their terms for a bit of fun but no follow-through, they are giving you mixed messages about their level of interest.

This creates confusion because even if you ask them to set a time to meet, those requests may be met with excuses, ambiguous responses, or flat-out rejection delivered in a flirty wrapper that goes nowhere. “We should totally get together soon” is a perfect example of a breadcrumbing response.

3 – A Booty Call Is NOT a Relationship

Classic breadcrumbing behavior is to connect with you on the spur of the moment, be really into you during sex, talk about all the things they want to do with you in the future, tell you how they have never had a connection like they have with you, get vulnerable with you, and then have sex. After the booty call, they head back to their normal lives, no future plans with you, and no contact until they are ready for the next hookup. This a not a relationship!

4 -You Feel Insecure and Second Guess Yourself After Being With Your Partner

Being in a relationship is NOT supposed to make you feel bad about yourself, insecure, or worry if you are enough. If this is a new feeling for you in relationships, you may want to consider if you are feeling this way because you are being breadcrumbed.

When the person you are dating gives you a laundry list of the things that you could do that would make you more interesting or compares you to other people they have dated as a way of letting you know what your relationship could look like in the future, this is a problem. If your partner is telling you that they really see a lot of potential in you and that once you get your act together they will be able to commit more, then this breadcrumbing behavior lets them have the space they want without having to actually commit to you.

5 – You Have Gone on Few Dates But They Don’t Ask Again but Don’t Go Away

You went out together and thought you had a good time and connection. The other person didn’t ask you out again but seems to be checking your social media, sends you emojis, and randomly asks what you are up to by text.

This drop-in behavior is a very much a breadcrumbing maneuver. The person on the other end may have a number of reasons to want to keep you on the hook, but none of them are based on wanting to pursue a long-term committed relationship with you.

4 tips to deal with breadcrumbing

1 -Have Healthy Boundaries.

Be clear what you are looking for, what you want, and what you expect. It’s always ok to let people know what your intention is for dating and make it clear from the beginning. So many of my clients are scared to let someone know that they are looking for a long-term relationship because they think it will feel like too much pressure. The right person will be relieved to know what your end goal is so they can evaluate what they are looking for and act accordingly.

Don’t treat yourself like you deserve less or minimize your own needs in order to make a relationship work. Treating yourself like you SHOULD be ok with what someone else is willing to offer when it doesn’t feel good to you is not healthy or sustainable for the long term.

2 – Ask For What You Want Even If You Think the Answer is NO.

Be Direct. If you want to talk on the phone, have more regular conversation, or have dates during daylight hours that don’t include being horizontal, then speak up. Telling someone how you want to be treated also lets you hear yourself asking for your needs and being your own advocate.

If you don’t speak up for yourself, then you are giving the other person the impression that you are ok with the way things are. Why would the other person do anything different if they get the impression that you are good with everything? If the answer is no, that’s ok too. It gives you more information about what your next steps might be.

3 – Set a Date and Ask For a Commitment for the Other Person to Show Up

Be Bold. Ask for them to take more movement in connecting. Plan something and reach out to see if the other person will commit to meeting. Ask this person directly if they are dating other people or if something is going on that prevents them from wanting to take next steps in deepening your relationship.

Let them know that flirting is fun and you have been really enjoying it, but you want to get to know the other person beyond a surface level. If the other person shuts you down or acts like the level of connection you already have is enough, then this is a red flag.

You are not going to have anything more with this person, and it’s not because they are so busy or so traumatized from their past breakup. People who want to get to know you better will make themselves available and will want to pursue spending time with you. Know that!

4 – Seek Couples Therapy.

Breadcrumbing doesn’t just happen in dating relationships. Giving the bare minimum output into a relationship can happen for married partners as well. Seeking a neutral trained third party to help both partners see the areas where they are missing opportunities to ask for their needs or to find specific areas of compromise is a healthy investment of your time, energy, and emotion.

If your partner is just not going to be able to meet your needs or is incapable of giving more of themselves because of past trauma or family-of-origin injuries, then seeking professional help can help navigate new connections in a safe environment.


Dr. Dana McNeil

Dr. Dana McNeil

Founder of The Relationship Place
Marriage and Family Therapist CA License #99008

certified gottman therapist

Sign up for our mailing list!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.