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4 Smart Ways to Respond to Breadcrumbing

A girl making an annoyed face at her phone as she prepares to respond to breadcrumbing messages.

Have you heard of breadcrumbing? It’s the new ghosting. Well, it’s the newest modern dating lingo to describe a previously unheard of phenomenon in the decades of dating past. It’s even got it’s own Urban Dictionary entry: “The act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal text messages (ie “breadcrumbs”) to members of the opposite sex in order to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort.”

Basically, to be breadcrumbed is to be texted, or snapchatted, or DMed, just enough that you keep someone in mind, but not enough for them to actually put in the effort to date you. It’s a strategy with mysterious motivations behind it. Do they want to keep you on the line just in case they need a backup date, or a backup to the backup? Are they trying to make sure you remember they’re around and are willing to send mildly flirtatious vibes your way? Why would someone spend the time doing this, without intentions of actually pursuing something?

Do you suspect you’re being breadcrumbed? Here’s a guide for deciding what you’re willing to do about it.

1. Call them out.
Often breadcrumbing is about giving yourself an ego boost, so don’t give in to the other person and make them feel good about their behavior. If they pop back up after weeks of radio silence with a casual flirty text, call them out on it. You don’t have to be blunt or accusatory; a simple “Haven’t heard from you in a while” is a subtle way to prompt them to explain their absence and sudden resurgence. If they don’t take that bait, you can always outright ask. Clear and honest communication is never a bad thing, and just because they’re not holding themselves to that standard doesn’t mean you can’t.

2. Ignore them.
People breadcumb when they’re bored. If a guy has been without female attention for too long, he might turn to breadcrumbing to ensure he’s still capable of captivating an audience. Maybe he’s got nothing better to do that night and just wants the thrill of knowing he can get you interested again. If he’s back after three months and still wants to send you GIFs, you don’t need to respond—unless you’re bored too. 

3. Give them a break.
Like most behaviors, people probably aren’t thinking  that about breadcrumbing you consciously. It’s a compulsion, an unheathy emotional manipulation style.  They probably aren’t able to articulate what it is they’re doing or why they’re doing it. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it less personal. It also means if you call it out as breadcrumbing, they might not know what that means. So you can potentially be pretty laid back about it, and say something like, “Not sure if you even realize you’re doing this, but I feel a bit breadcrumbed.” Of, if you’re still interested in them, you could even say, “Want to throw something more than a crumb my way?”

4. Ask them why.
If you ask them straight up why they’re just occasionally dipping back into your digital life, they might feel compelled to answer honestly, or at least take a good look at themselves and wonder what’s driving their behavior. If you’re still interested in actually getting to know them, asking them for some answers might be the only path forward.

It can be hurtful to realize you’re being strung along by someone who probably doesn’t have real intentions of dating you. The good news is, there’s no reason you have to participate in it. If you find yourself getting caught in the crumb trap, you’re the one who  has the power. You can always choose to end the cycle by not picking up that breadcrumb. 

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