There are many annoying and sometimes narcissistic behaviors to watch out for in modern dating, and one of them is breadcrumbing.
Breadcrumbing is when someone gives you attention and validation inconsistently and in small amounts.
They never give you enough to make you feel like they’re in a committed relationship with you, but just enough to make you wonder whether there’s the possibility of a relationship in the future.
(On the other hand, you may already know there’s no future deep down in your gut, but you get stuck in the cycle of responding to their crumbs because you’re hooked.)
The key to remember here is that anyone can engage in breadcrumbing behavior.
There are narcissistic, abusive people who breadcrumb, and there are “normal” people who breadcrumb.
Obviously, the breadcrumbing that abusive people do would feel even more traumatic than the breadcrumbing you’d experience from someone who is simply indecisive about their love life.
Table of Contents
What Is Breadcrumbing in Dating?
At the heart of it, breadcrumbing in dating is when someone keeps you around for their own ends.
- They are not in a relationship with you
- They are not invested in you or your emotions, and
- They don’t actually care about you.
They care about the sex, power and attention you can give them, though.
And so they will not want to fully let you go. It’s frustrating.
They’ll keep you in the background, giving you crumbs here and there that make you feel like there may be hope for a future together.
Take a look at this situation a member of ours was in. It showcases some typical red flags of breadcrumbing in dating:
And some of the responses she got below confirm the breadcrumbing:
If you are dealing with breadcrumbing in dating and you consider yourself to be a “nice” girl, I recommend you let go of that identity for now, to deal with the breadcrumber effectively.
To deal with breadcrumbers, you can’t be too weak.
Here are two words you can say that will allow you to get your point across to a guy whilst also keeping your high value.
What Is Breadcrumbing In A Relationship?
Breadcrumbing in a relationship is different in that the breadcrumber is officially in a relationship with you (due to marriage or due to just to labels you’ve collectively put on the relationship).
Breadcrumbing in a relationship usually occurs when:
- You’ve had a falling out
- They’re confused about their feelings for you
- You’ve fallen for and are exclusive with, a narcissist
- The other person has gradually lost interest in you; or
- They’re cheating on you
Breadcrumbing in a relationship is quite abusive and it’s worse for you in the sense that you’ve likely had a longer history with the breadcrumber.
You really have to work hard to break that type of tie.
Why Do People Breadcrumb?
People breadcrumb for different reasons. Remember at the start of this article I mentioned that there are abusive people who breadcrumb, and then there are non abusive people who breadcrumb.
So the reasons for breadcrumbing behavior largely depend on the personality of the breadcrumber, and the motivations of the person doing it.
Let’s have a look at some possible answers to the question: why do people breadcrumb?
- Because there are endless options on online dating apps, and they want to keep as many options open as possible
- To appear cool
- They lack affection and emotional support
- Because they are scared of getting too bored if they lose your attention and desire for them
- Because they’re actually a narcissist (this is called narcissistic breadcrumbing behavior)
- To gain control
- Because they are torn internally about which person in their “rotation” is best for them
- Because they don’t actually want you – they want something from you
- They have insecure attachment style, specifically they’re an avoidant, anxious, or they have disorganized attachment style – therefore they can’t show up consistently in the relationship due to inability to face intimacy
There are sinister reasons why people breadcrumb, and then there are more “innocent” reasons – which usually pertain to their internal uncertainty and their inability to see their own actions objectively.
Do Breadcrumbers Know They Are Breadcrumbing?
Some definitely do. And the ones who do know usually don’t care, and don’t mind. They’re just there to get what they want.
Other breadcrumbers have absolutely no idea what they are doing – to you or to themselves.
They don’t realize that due to their selfish ways, they are:
- Lowering your self esteem
- Severely damaging your emotional and mental health; and
- Sabotaging their own ability to maintain a healthy relationship long term
Breadcrumbing behavior manifests in several different ways. But here are some examples:
- Only responding to text messages late at night
- Avoiding emotional intimacy
- They avoid defining the relationship, and then when you ask them to define the relationship, they accuse you of “always talking about your feelings”. Or when you mention their past declarations of love of commitment towards you, they deny it and gaslight you, causing you to doubt yourself
- Disappearing for days or weeks after a longer conversation and then buttering you up
- Leaving comments on your social media posts but not responding to other forms of communication
- Their actions don’t match their words
- Ignoring texts and phone calls, and only messaging you on other platforms that require lower investment. For example, ignoring your text messages but sending you PMs on instagram
- They suddenly come on really strong when you begin to pull away
- Giving you lots of attention for a bit, and then disappearing and going silent
- Talking about meeting up in person, but never actually meeting up
- Communicating in memes without really getting to know you or getting into deeper conversations
- They only seem interested in sex
Now I’m going to briefly talk about the more sinister motivations for breadcrumbing, the type used by toxic, narcissistic abusers, called intermittent reinforcement.
Is Breadcrumbing The Same As Intermittent Reinforcement?
When a narcissist breadcrumbs you, it’s toxic and manipulative and it often creates what is called a trauma bond.
This type of abusive behavior is still called breadcrumbing, but it’s also called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement is a term that originated from B.F. Skinner’s theories on operant conditioning.
When thinking about what intermittent reinforcement is, we need to look at each of the words separately to gain a good understanding.
Intermittent means sporadic or irregular, and reinforcement means the action or process of strengthening something.
What this means is that a breadcrumber will partake in intermittent reinforcement by:
- Abusing you or coming to take something from you, whether that be your time, attention or sense of submissiveness to them, and then…
- Giving you something that you value in small amounts.
By the time they’re done taking from you, you’re already worn down, so much that the crumbs of love or the “reinforcement” they give you feel like nirvana.
Their behavior will turn you into an emotional rollercoaster.
Here’s an example of this painful situation from our group:
Someone engaging in intermittent reinforcement/breadcrumbing might:
- Tell you they need a specific thing from you in order to be happy with you, and then when you give it to them, they’ll only be happy and give you “approval” some of the time
- Criticize you and then give you a little bit of praise
- Ignore you for a long time (even when they know you need attention) and then tell you how much they love the connection you have together
- Give you the silent treatment when you do something they don’t “like”, and then suddenly be all loving to you – but not too much. Only enough to make you a bit excited
- Be all charming to get the sex they want. And when they disappear again leaving you discarded, they’ll offer you some praise and fawn over you to lessen the blow and still keep you hooked
There are 7 common signs a woman is perceived as low value to all men, because men simply perceive value differently to women. Do you know what these signs are and how to avoid them like the plague? CLICK HERE to download this special report.
8 Sad Signs of Breadcrumbing
- You’re in a state of confusion. Breadcrumbing causes you to constantly wonder why you don’t feel like they’re fully committed to you, but they still somehow seem like they’re “interested” in you.
This leaves you also hanging onto a doomed relationship.
Breadcrumbing may also lead you to question whether you’re being too harsh on the breadcrumber. Especially when they were once so helpful (lovebombing anyone?) and can really be “so loving” and “attentive” – when they are.
- You feel like your needs are on hold. You have needs for attention and affection, and they may have met these needs for you at some point in the past, but you don’t ever feel fully satisfied.
- You are on an emotional rollercoaster.
- You feel addicted to them. Basically, the person drains your energy but also excites you. This is what happens when you’re trauma bonded. The breadcrumber is intermittently reinforcing you so as to keep you under their control.
This is how people get addicted to gambling. If they knew they’d always win the same amount of money, gambling wouldn’t be addictive, because it’s too predictable. But when they only win sometimes – and occasionally even win big – they’ll take the risks associated with gambling.
- You’re scared of defining the relationship or asking them to bring the relationship forward, in case it scares them off or makes them angry (also a sign that you’re in a situationship).
- They are sending mixed messages.
- You’re feeling a lot more lonely, helpless and less satisfied with life. Research shows that people who have experienced breadcrumbing report feeling all of these three things.
- Their communication is never reliable nor consistent. Quite simply, someone who is serious about you will make it clear that you’re number one for them. They won’t give you crumbs just to keep you around.
If you want to find out for sure how serious he is about you, I recommend you take my free quiz to find out:
QUIZ TIME: Is your man serious about committing to you? CLICK HERE to find out with this specially crafted quiz!
VIDEO: Is he Serious or Just “Interested”? Critical Distinction.
Are All Breadcrumbers Narcissists?
Not all breadcrumbers are narcissists. However if they are a serial breadcrumber, they may be a narcissist. Serial breadcrumbers have been found to have personalities associated with elevated levels of narcissism.
The Impact of Breadcrumbing On YOU
What is the impact on you if you experience breadcrumbing?
Nothing particularly good.
Experiencing breadcrumbing will:
- Lower your self esteem
- Make you more anxious. In some extreme cases of breadcrumbing, a securely attached person may even turn into an anxiously attached person due to having spent too long stuck in that relationship. (You can find out your own attachment style with our free quiz here).
- Make you feel more lonely, despite having enough family and friends around you
- Make you question your relationship skills
- Make you feel more vulnerable in a bad way (in a way that makes you feel exploited)
- Make you less trusting of people and relationships
- Make you waste your precious life away
What about the impact of narcissistic breadcrumbing?
The effect on you after having experienced narcissistic breadcrumbing is pretty bad. It can cause you to:
- Have depression; and
- Make it harder for you to sustain future relationships due to trauma
Simply put, tolerating being breadcrumbed can make you so traumatized that you’re on edge in future relationships.
Experiencing such trauma always comes at a huge price to your emotional stability and mental health.
This is why it’s imperative for you to be beyond tolerating it.
You can’t be weak and you can’t be at the whim of a breadcrumber. But we will talk more about how to deal with breadcrumbing now.
The Number One Tip to handle being breadcrumbed
This number one tip for not being breadcrumbed is going to require you to take full responsibility for your actions.
I want you to know that taking full responsibility for your side doesn’t mean you are blaming yourself for the breadcrumber’s actions – far from it.
You are just taking back control.
You are making it easy for yourself to stay high value, say no, and to walk away.
The number one tip for how to handle being breadcrumbed, whether it’s in person or over text, is to stop valuing (or needing) short term gratification.
Research shows that a reason why people tolerate breadcrumbing is due to a need for short term gratification.
Basically, they can’t seem to let go of that next crumb of attention or validation.
So you need to fully let go of hope for attention, fake love and validation.
Decide that you no longer need it – even if the alternative is sitting in your grief, loneliness and pain.
Because if you choose to need the short term gratification again, all you will do is simply delay the grieving and the emotional processing.
But when you delay it, you make it much harder – on yourself and on your future lover.
So here’s what you need to do. Say this out loud to yourself in front of a mirror:
“I don’t need your attention. I don’t need your fake idea of love.”
“I choose what is real. And that’s not you.”
How to Respond to Breadcrumbing via Text
The best way to respond to breadcrumbing via text is with high value banter.
Banter is an amazing tool for dealing with:
- Low value men; and
- Flaky behavior
Because banter will introduce spontaneity into the interactions, and that will bring more of the truth to the surface.
Specifically, their lack of emotional investment in you and their lack of emotional attunement to you.
So if you want to, you can take my husband David’s free class on High Value Banter here.
In this class, you will gain free examples, good laughs and the ability to weed out the weak men while attracting the “BEST” of men.
In conclusion, breadcrumbing is a toxic behavior that is of little benefit to you and your love life.
What you get out of breadcrumbing is short term attention at the cost of your long term sanity.
If you want to stop attracting breadcrumbers, the answer is to stop saying yes to short term gratification.
There are men out there who seek emotional intimacy – you don’t have to settle for idiots!
I advise you to take your love life seriously and learn the art of high value banter, because this is the secret to attracting emotionally mature, healthy, commitment-oriented men.
If you want to be supported by a warm community of high value feminine women, then join our Facebook Group. (It’s free and so incredibly valuable!) CLICK HERE TO join thousands of other women in our “High Value Feminine Women” Community.
By the way, while you’re at it, connect with me on social media.
Renee is the founder of The Feminine Woman & co-founder of Shen Wade Media where we teach women how to show up as a high value high status woman whom easily inspires a deep sense of emotional commitment from her chosen man. Together with her husband D. Shen at Commitment Triggers blog, they have positively influenced the lives of over 15 million women through their free articles and videos as well as 10’s of thousands through paid programs through the Shen Wade Media platform.
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