July 15, 2024
Chicago 12, Melborne City, USA
Dating advice Industry Trends Relationship

How to Avoid Breadcrumbing in Your Relationships


People have been leading people on and playing with their emotions for far too long. Here’s how to identify it and stop it from affecting you.


We’re all familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel, two poorly-named children who try to find their way home by following a trail of breadcrumbs after being abandoned in the woods. It’s never struck me as a romantic tale, but the concept of “breadcrumbing” has stuck around and has now made its way into the world of dating. Breadcrumbing is where one person leaves little morsels of emotional nourishment for an unsuspecting potential partner to follow, without ever intending to fully feed them/consummate the relationship. 

All of this feels a little abstract. In practical terms, two people match on an app, then one will consistently message and try to arrange dates, while the other responds just enough to keep them interested but not enough to actually result in a real connection. It’s frustrating, callous, and hopefully avoidable. Let’s look at some different ways to prevent breadcrumbing.

  1. The block button is there. Use it

The wonderful thing about dating apps is they’re teaming with people. If a conversation isn’t going well or you feel ignored, fuck ‘em. Find someone else. If you’ve only ever spoken over Tinder or similar, it’s not that serious and you don’t need to feel too attached. Breadcrumbing is manipulative, so you might be reluctant to cut them off and move on, but you don’t owe this person anything and they certainly aren’t making an effort to be kind to you.

  1. Pay attention to how frequently they communicate

Some people will set boundaries with dating apps and only use them for a certain amount of time each day. That’s absolutely fine, and should probably be done more. The person you’ve matched with may well do this, so if you’re waiting for a day to hear back from them, ask if this is what they’re doing. If you feel like you’re at the stage where you can communicate away from dating sites, give them your phone number or social media so you can chat more easily. 

  1. Don’t be too imaginative

Look, I love a good story. I think a lot of people will create a fantasy where they meet their true love/significant other and are completely swept off their feet, before realising the reality of their relationship is much more mundane. Recognise when this is happening, and remember that sometimes we put people on pedestals or think they’re much better than they actually are, and although that’s kind of sweet and endearing, it ultimately creates a narrative that nobody will live up to. Sure, the person sending you offhand messages on Hinge might be brooding and romantic and ready to set the world on fire to keep you warm… or, more likely, they’re just bored and want the ego boost of another person’s devotion. Unfortunately, you need to tumble back into the real world and snap out of it.

  1. Don’t throw too much into a dating app flirtation

I firmly believe that the person you’re dating should fill your life with joy. Also, you should have hobbies, friends, pets, a job and a million other things which make you feel fulfilled and bring you happiness. Your self-worth shouldn’t depend on someone messaging you on a dating app. Breadcrumbing really works when the person being breadcrumbed doesn’t have much else going on, because it means they spend their time filling in the blanks and imagining a relationship that isn’t really there. Set your own boundaries with dating apps and spend the time you would have dedicated to them to rediscovering an interest or hanging out with a loved one. 

  1. Don’t start playing games

I hate having to give this advice. Playing games with other people’s feelings is manipulative, narcissistic and kind of normalised. I know too many people with strange rules about how long to wait before you text or call or whatever, and it’s not worth it. Even if this were to work and the person you’re chatting to did eventually fall for you, it will create a dysfunctional basis and seems unlikely to mature into a healthy relationship. If someone is breadcrumbing you, that’s a red flag, and showing your own won’t make things better. Block them and move on. 


Breadcrumbing has probably been around for as long as the tale of Hansel and Gretel, but it was usually described as leading someone on. The only thing that’s changed is the method by which it happens. You probably won’t find someone trotting around with a loaf of bread, but if you’re into online dating, it’ll probably happen at some point. Don’t let it get you down, and instead block them and eat a nice piece of gingerbread instead.

Rachel Hall, M.A., completed her education in English at the University of Pennsylvania and received her master’s degree in family therapy from Northern Washington University. She has been actively involved in the treatment of anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, and coping with life changes and traumatic events for both families and individual clients for over a decade. Her areas of expertise include narrative therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and therapy for traumatic cases. In addition, Rachel conducts workshops focusing on the psychology of positive thinking and coping skills for both parents and teens. She has also authored numerous articles on the topics of mental health, stress, family dynamics and parenting.

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