7 signs it’s breadcrumbing (not love), according to psychology

If you’re reading this then you probably know what breadcrumbing is. But let’s get it clear anyway.

Breadcrumbing is someone showing enough interest to keep you hooked, or following a trail, but one that ultimately leads nowhere.

There are different reasons why people might engage in breadcrumbing, from wanting attention to having a backup, or a sign of narcissism.

But one thing is clear. It isn’t love. 

And yet it might feel like it, since the hot and cold games that breadcrumbers play can leave your hormones and emotions all mixed up.

So read on to find out the signs that you are being breadcrumbed, according to psychology.

1) They play hot and cold

Most of us are familiar with the games that some people play in relationships. 

One minute showing a lot of interest and then pulling back. Or texting you and calling you and then not. 

Perhaps building you up with lots of compliments and then ignoring you. Inviting you on a date where you have a great time and then blanking you for a week.

There are many reasons why people play hot and cold, and some can stem from insecurity and/or attachment style patterns such as avoidant or disorganized attachment.

In those cases, the person isn’t breadcrumbing you, instead dealing with their issues, with you on the receiving end.

It may be hard to know what’s going on at the start of a relationship.

So talking with your would-be sweetie about what you want from a relationship or connection (in general, not necessarily the person in question), can be a great way to start decoding or even preventing this behaviour. 

2) You get an uneasy feeling around them

While Psychology Today notes that some people may be unaware they are breadcrumbing (perhaps due to the issues mentioned above), other psychologists see breadcrumbing as a deliberate technique of manipulation.

“It’s an emotionally manipulative tactic designed to make someone dependent on you” says Kelly Campbell, Ph.D.

Although we might not always be able to detect manipulation directly, especially when we want to give our potential love interest the benefit of the doubt, there is a way to check.

So how do we check? 

Spend a little bit of time in your body, perhaps using meditation or a somatic technique like Focusing, you can see how you feel. Is it good or bad? Anxious or relaxed? What images, sensations and feelings come to mind?

Even if you don’t do that, but you get an uneasy feeling when you are around them, or other bad vibes, this may be your body sensing manipulation, and trying to let you know it’s time to get out!

3) There’s a mismatch between what they say and what they do

There’s a key way to establish trust in a relationship. And that’s consistency. 

Do what you say and say what you’ll do. 

Obviously, there will always be times when you can’t stick to a date or plan, and things change.

But if you notice a pattern that someone never seems to follow through, for example, they propose a date but it never happens, they are probably breadcrumbing you.

Back when I was on dating apps I got breadcrumbed and then later ghosted. I was chatting to a guy and he and I arranged to meet. He couldn’t make the date, let me know, and I didn’t think anything of it.

Then the second time around he also couldn’t make the date. He had a great excuse and all but…

Our texts were very surface level and he would send me videos that seemed nice because he was making an effort, but upon reflection were actually totally boring and low effort. For instance, him at work complaining about the rain. Fascinating! Or not.

After cancelling on me for the second time he blocked me from WhatsApp without warning. 

I guess that he was breadcrumbing me while hoping for something ‘better’. His loss!

4) Your communication doesn’t seem very deep

if you do these things youre letting your partner down in your relationship 1 7 signs it's breadcrumbing (not love), according to psychology

So in that last point, I mentioned the phone videos that at first glance seemed like a high effort thing, but were actually a low-effort form of communication.

Maybe the person only offers you occasional texts or calls, or perhaps they only ask questions about you and don’t volunteer information about themselves. 

They may shower you with praise, but you might wonder why they think you are so great since they know so little about the real you.

Perhaps they message you late at night or on certain weekend evenings. Again no one point here is a definite sign of breadcrumbing, but if several things ring true this is probably a sign of something shady!

Are they calling you because they are drunk and horny? Or when their partner (yes unfortunately this is another possibility with breadcrumbing) is asleep, or out?

Think about it.

5) The connection feels more like ‘friends with benefits’ (FWB)

Have you ever wanted something deeper with someone but it ended up being mainly a sexual connection?

Then you might have been breadcrumbed. Especially if you made your desires clear from the start.

When two people consensually agree that they are just in it for a FWB style connection then that can be great.

But if it starts off with one person promising dates and future plans, but you never seem to get past the bedroom, you’ve got a problem. It’s even worse if the future is something that is never discussed, or not mentioned past the first few dates.

Psychologist Dr. Susan Albers explains, “With breadcrumbers, there’s very little talk of what we’re doing next week, or where is this relationship going? Everything is very in the moment.”

I once was seeing a guy who told me he wanted to spoil me and take me shopping. I was young and didn’t really take him that seriously.

To be fair to him, I don’t think he really knew what he wanted. We had a double date with his friends and this was the last time I saw him out of the bedroom.

As it happened, I didn’t see him as a great potential match for me, due to our personality differences. And I think he felt the same when we got to know each other better. 

But if I’d been more invested in the connection, it would have been painful.

6) You give more than you receive

Do you feel like you’re the one always putting in the time or effort?

Perhaps you make yourself available at the last minute when they text you, cancelling plans with friends because you’re so happy they called.

Or maybe you spend all day waiting for them to show up, only for them to arrive 5 hours late (yes this would frequently happen to a friend of mine).

This kind of behaviour shows that the other person just isn’t as invested in you as they should be.

So what should you do?

Let’s take a lesson from Marshal Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication:

“The Four Steps of Non-Violent Communication

  • Observe Facts – observe the specific facts that are affecting our wellbeing, and bring them up with the other person  
  • Note Feelings – introspect about what exactly we are feeling in response to what we’ve observed, and communicate these feelings  
  • Uncover Desires – figure out the desires, wants and values that are creating our feelings, and explain them to the other person  
  • Make Requests – ask for concrete actions to help resolve the situation”

So how can we apply this structure to the example of the late dater from above?

  1. I’ve noticed that when we make plans, you often come over several hours later than scheduled. (Observe Facts)
  2. This leaves me feeling unsettled and frustrated because I’m spending time waiting for you when I could be doing other things (Note Feelings)
  3. I’d like to know when you actually have time to meet me as this would make me feel that you respect my time and want to see me (Uncover Desires)
  4. Please can you make an effort to show up on time, or give me adequate notice if you are going to be late or can’t make it. (Make a Request)

7) It’s an emotional rollercoaster

A lot of this article has focused on the behaviour of the breadcrumber – leaving you a trail of morsels that leads to an uncertain place.

And as we’ve seen, some of these behaviours can be breadcrumbing, but others could be caused by something else.

This uncertainty might lead you to doubt yourself and your judgement.

So what can you do?

Examine the course of your connection with this person. Does it feel like an emotional rollercoaster? For instance, are you one minute elated, then sad, then happy again?

If so you are on an emotional rollercoaster. Like the uneasy feeling I mentioned, (that can reveal you are being manipulated), this is another red flag.

Although it might not be breadcrumbing, it’s not a good sign. 

Ask yourself if you really and truly want to continue a connection like this. 

Your first instinct might be to say yes due to the addictive dopaminergic nature of the uncertainty of the reward. (This is a big part of the reason that things like gambling, loot boxes in games and infinite scrolling are addictive.)

But your second thought may help you to put this in a larger context. Whatever the reason for your partner’s behaviour, you deserve better than to be manipulated or led up the garden path.

Follow the advice from this article. And if that makes no difference then you can safely conclude that it’s not love, and there is someone better for you out there!




Picture of Louisa Lopez

Louisa Lopez

Louisa is writer, wellbeing coach, and world traveler, with a Masters in Social Anthropology. She is fascinated by people, psychology, spirituality and exploring psychedelics for personal growth and healing. She’s passionate about helping people and has been giving empowering advice professionally for over 10 years using the tarot. Louisa loves magical adventures and can often be found on a remote jungle island with her dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter: @StormJewel

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