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City Sanctuary Therapy - Dr. Joyline Gozho

Counselling, Psychotherapy, CBT and Couples Therapy in London Bridge, City of London,

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, and Online

How to deal with breadcrumbing in the dating space

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How to deal with breadcrumbing in the dating space

Breadcrumbing is one of the numerous new buzzwords emerging in the contemporary dating scene. The ways in which people meet has changed over time which is also reflected in how people are approaching dating, typical behaviours in dating, and the language used around it. The Millennials and Gen Zs generations experience dating very differently from the earlier generations as they have grown up with access to technology, the internet and social media and are therefore digitally literate. This paradigm shift spelt by technological advancements has also seen online dating being the preferred form of meeting new people and dating.


Other forms of contact - texts and social media - mean people can connect without necessarily being in the same environment. There are scenarios where people go into a full-blown relationship without having met each other in real time, and in person but conversing remotely. All these changes have led to certain dating codes, new concepts, behavioural patterns, and phrases being coined and used to describe experiences in the dating space.

Breadcrumbing, ghosting and orbiting are some of the new and popular buzzwords that don’t feature in our traditional dictionary and are accepted in the dating space. These concepts are here to stay, and some of them now feature in the urban dictionary; they need to be explored. As a therapist, it is important that l keep abreast with the changes in the use of language, and growing trends, as many people are coming to therapy having been breadcrumbed. Breadcrumbing is indeed one word that captures a dating pattern which has left many people emotionally wounded.

What is breadcrumbing?

Breadcrumbing is when someone pursues you and gives you attention- flirtations, compliments, sexting, and hints of being interested in you, without the intention of dating or “leading you on”. The attention is typically sporadic and when it happens it is characteristically via online channels, meant to create a sense of interest and desire to know the other person without the actual intent to do so. The individual who breadcrumbs then withdraws, spelt by avoidant behaviours - not responding to messages, not responding to calls, and then reappears out of the blue.

When the individual re-emerges and comes back after a while, they repeat the same cycle of raising hopes & dropping the other person when they were starting to feel even closer, and hopeful of something further developing. The individual typically disappears when you bring up important topics that involve feelings and emotions, seeking clarity, the possibility of a relationship, or some sort of commitment.

The breadcrumbers are good at acting as the perfect potential partner who showers compliments, and at times even takes one out on a date before disappearing into the abyss again. This behaviour is indeed a form of emotional manipulation as it puts the recipient of the crumbs in a conflicting place of feeling desire and loved, and rejected and abandoned at the same time.  Apart from the disappearing acts, breadcrumbers are good at deflecting and sweet-talking to vindicate & absolve themselves. They don’t have much to prove or explain after all, as they are not in a relationship, you are simply picking up their breadcrumbs.

Impact of breadcrumbing on mental health

Most people who engage in breadcrumbing dating patterns are very aware of their behaviours and motivations. A small number of them are not aware of their behaviour which may be due to poor communication skills or other constraints such as time. However, for the majority of people, breadcrumbing itself is a form of manipulating the other person, to bolster their own ego. This is a manipulation because the disappearance, reappearance & inconsistent behaviours leave the one who is giving breadcrumbs in control of the dating experience, and it gives them the power to not only control how, and when they access you but also what they do. It is often people who have low self-esteem, low self-worth, and insecurity in themselves who tend to engage in breadcrumbing others as it bolsters their self-worth & self-esteem, giving them a sense of confidence.

On the other end, the inconsistent and confusing behaviour can leave the one being breadcrumbed feeling very confused, disillusioned, lonely, isolated, rejected and hurt in the end, as this dynamic never culminates into a real relationship. Research done by the National Library of Medicine in the US has proven that breadcrumbing can have detrimental effects on one’s mental health and well-being, including increasing feelings of loneliness, and diminishing one's overall satisfaction in life.

People with anxious attachment styles (Bowlby, 1961) are likely to find the behavioural patterns of breadcrumbing even more challenging to deal with as it heightens their anxiety states even further. The anticipation of connection or communicating, or actual communication, making plans, which is met by non-communication and silence can leave one feeling very highly anxious, on edge and in a constant state of hyperarousal.

Being in a hyperarousal state means adrenalin and cortisol are naturally being released in abundance by the body as a survival mechanism to cope with the level of stress it is experiencing. Excessive and prolonged periods of adrenalin and cortisol supplies causes the body wear and tear, and it becomes overwhelmed and overloaded as a system. The secondary health issues from having excessive amounts of cortisol and adrenalin are stress, generalised anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, and at times appetite disturbances.

People who are being given breadcrumbs are likely to engage in rumination where one repeatedly plays past scenarios in their mind, trying to reassess where things went wrong, chastising oneself. The repetitive negative thinking in rumination can cause a lot of distress and precipitate anxiety and depression. At times severe rumination does require treatment with therapy, CBT being the favoured form of treatment which helps challenge the negative repetitive and irrational thinking.

People who had little love or affection in early life can easily become caught up in the dynamic where they are either the subject or victim of breadcrumbing. Feeling loved & appreciated can leave people who crave affection to seek more & end up engaged in the cycle where they are getting the bare minimum “breadcrumbs” and wait until the next dose of it. It’s very easy for the one who drops the breadcrumbs to sense the emotional neediness or void in the other, which is what perpetuates the cycle of dropping morsels of affection here and there, and controlling when they engage again.

Conversely, the people who had little love and affection are vulnerable to engaging in breadcrumbing as it gives them a sense of satisfaction that someone loves and pays attention to them, someone is interested in them, and that they are in control, despite not having any interest in pursuing any form of relationship.

Being breadcrumbed has profound negative effects on one's mental health as the erratic nature of this pattern often leaves the one who is being given breadcrumbs questioning their desirability and reality- gaslighting themselves eg. “Was l rude in my last message?”, and replaying scenarios in their head.  This erodes one’s self-esteem and diminished self-worth.

Ways of dealing with breadcrumbing

If you are being breadcrumbed, the best way to deal with it is to first identify a pattern in your dating experience. Who initiates contact, how long does the other person take to respond, do they withdraw when you start talking about emotions, are they consistent in behaviour and what they say?

If you answered negatively to some of the questions above, it's important to start putting boundaries in place by letting the other person know that you are not interested in "playing games" and you do not wish to be treated as if you do not matter. This form of self-advocacy disarms the other person & on many occasions, the behaviour stops. If they are genuine and it’s a matter of poor communication, they will stop and start communicating better.

Instead of dwelling on the negative dating experience and feeling lonely waiting for them to reach out and respond to messages, find things to do to occupy your time. Engage in old and new hobbies and channel your energy into existing relationship that nourishes you and where you feel valued.

If you are still pursuing dating, start meeting new people and continue your exploration journey. Do not miss the opportunity of meeting the love of your life waiting for someone who does not care about you.

© Joyline Gozho

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