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5 Signs That Someone Is Breadcrumbing in a Relationship

3. You feel like you're waiting all the time.

Key points

  • Breadcrumbing can occur in romantic, social, family, and work situations.
  • The breadcrumber may show attentiveness when they want something, only to revert to their self-absorbed behavior when the objective is met.
  • Many victims of breadcrumbing are on some level aware that they are being led on and strung along.
  • An important question to ask: “Do I deserve better than the way I’m being treated in this relationship?”
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Breadcrumbing can be defined as the act of “leading someone on” and “keeping someone’s hopes up” through small and superficial acts of interest, enticement, and flirtation, but ultimately disappointing the individual with false expectations, empty promises, and abandonment (emotional if not physical).[1][2]

Breadcrumbing can occur in dating and romantic scenarios (i.e. stringing someone along but not committing), family dynamics (i.e. infrequent and conditional love), friendships and social media (i.e. connecting then semi-ghosting), and professional situations (i.e. dangling illusive opportunities).

In milder forms, breadcrumbing lacks consistency and integrity. At its worst, chronic and persistent breadcrumbing has elements of narcissism (the breadcrumber’s self-absorption/self-gratification), manipulation (using others), and abuse (emotional betrayal/neglect).

A breadcrumbing relationship may include one or more of the following characteristics, with references from my book How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People :

1. Emotional Roller Coaster and Uncertainty. Those on the receiving end of breadcrumbing often experience an emotional roller coaster (disappointed most of the time, with occasional false hope), along with confusion and self-doubt. The victim of breadcrumbing may begin to question and even blame oneself for the breadcrumber’s relational neglect (i.e. “is this because of me?”; “did I do something wrong?”)

2. Relationship Dependence. In many cases, breadcrumbing may affect relational dependence, where the victim keeps looking for the breadcrumber to dangle the next morsel of false hope to maintain the illusion of positive relationship. Some victims of breadcrumbing may try harder to please and prove their worth (which may be exactly what the breadcrumber wants), without receiving genuine acknowledgement and reciprocation in return.

Significantly, the breadcrumber may show interest and attentiveness when they want something from the victim, only to go back to their self-absorbed and neglectful ways after they get what they want.

3. Waiting and Surrendering Power. Related to relationship dependence, the victim of breadcrumbing always seems to be waiting — for the breadcrumber to text or call, to follow-through on a long held promise, or to finally show commitment in a relationship.

In this waiting game, an unhealthy and inequitable dynamic is created. The breadcrumber holds the power of attention, acceptance and approval, while the victim surrenders their independence and self-respect.

4. Feel Used and Manipulated/Denial. Deep down, many victims of breadcrumbing “know better,” aware that they are being led on and strung along. However, some may continue to stay in the relationship to avoid facing the painful truth that the breadcrumber really doesn’t care about them. An important question to ask is: “Do I deserve better than the way I’m being treated in this relationship?”

5. Loneliness and Emptiness. The outcome of all of the conditions above is that the victim of persistent breadcrumbing often feels loneliness, discouragement, depression, and perhaps most of all, emptiness. An emptiness that comes from a lack of true substance in the relationship.

For tips on how to handle breadcrumbers, see references below.

© 2022 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

Facebook image: pathdoc/Shutterstock


Ni, Preston. How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People — 2nd Edition. PNCC. (2006).

Ni, Preston. How to Successfully Handle Narcissists. PNCC. (2014).

Ni, Preston. Are You Too Nice? How to Gain Appreciation and Respect . PNCC. (2015).

[1]Navarro, R. et al. Psychological Correlates of Ghosting and Breadcrumbing Experiences: A Preliminary Study among Adults. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. (2020)

[2]Rodríguez-García, C. et al. Development and Validation of Breadcrumbing in Affective-Sexual Relationships (BREAD-ASR) Questionnaire: Introducing a New Online Dating Perpetration. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. (2020)

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