Breadcrumbing: Ghosting’s Subtle, Sadistic Cousin

By Rachel Puryear

Chances are, you’ve heard of “ghosting” – the notoriously childish and cruel way to end relationships (romantic, friendships, familial, and otherwise) by suddenly and inexplicably cutting off all contact with someone.

When ghosting happens, the person who’s been ghosted is left to figure things out for themselves, and is denied a proper face-to-face explanation.

Ghosting is indeed coldblooded behavior, and it cuts deep.

Breadcrumbing, though, can be thought of as not only cutting deep, but also reopening that same wound over and over again; purposefully never letting the other person heal – just so that the breadcrumber can use the breadcrumbed person for their own selfish ends.

Hands leaving a breadcrumb trail.

In short; someone who is breadcrumbing you is stringing you along, and using you.

A breadcrumber will give you just enough attention and affection, just often enough; so that you don’t move on from them, and they give you false hopes.

Breadcrumbing is known largely for happening in romantic and sexual contexts (I hesitate to use the term “relationship” for this sort of thing). However, it can also happen in (fake) friendships and other personal relations.

If someone is breadcrumbing you, the situation will never become a healthy, satisfying relationship/friendship. Nor is the breadcrumbing person ever going to become a caring, supportive, loving partner or true friend who will be there for you when you need them.

That is a hard reality, and it’s important to accept.

Once you realize that breadcrumbing is happening, it’s best to just cut ties and move on, rather than keeping this kind of person in your life.

Don’t make excuses for the breadcrumber. If they really care about you and are serious about being with you, they will do what it takes to develop something real and reliable with you.

Besides, the moment you’re constantly making excuses for anyone is generally a sign that a re-evaluation of this relationship/situation is necessary.

Having a breadcrumber in your life is bad for your morale, bad for your self-esteem, bad for your health, and seriously – you’ve got much better things you could be doing instead with that time and energy.

So, how can you know if you’re being breadcrumbed? Here are some telltale signs that someone is breadcrumbing you:

(1) You Only Hear From Them Sporadically…

Do they have a habit of mysteriously disappearing on you sometimes, often with a vague or sketchy sounding explanation when they do turn up, but they don’t want to talk about why they left you hanging? Maybe they’re even defensive, and pressure you to drop it, rather than listening to you?

Do you usually reply promptly to texts, while you often wait – and often anxiously keep checking in – strangely long periods of time for a reply? Do they sometimes inexplicably drop off mid-conversation?

Of course, if you take a while to reply to a breadcrumber, they give you a hard time and/or disappear again for a while. They want you on stand-by all the time for them, but they won’t wait for you.

(2) And When You Do, It’s Nothing of Substance

When they do reach out, does their intro consist of something like “Hey” and not much more?

Do the conversations never seem to progress much deeper, to where you’re really getting to mutually know one another, and talking about things that matter for the future?

Or does the exchange tend to suddenly go dark when you try to bring up anything substantive? Do they for some weird reason always “fall asleep,” “get interrupted,” or “have to go something just came up,” or just stop replying at all when you suggest getting together on anything but their terms?

Are they not only hard to communicate with, but they also get real skittish when you try to make plans with them?

Text message exchange, with message delivered at 2:34 am, reading “hey you up?”, and bubbles indicating someone is replying.

(3) When They Do See You, It’s Mainly for a Hookup/Or Whatever Else They Want

This is an example of getting together just on their terms, by the way.

There’s nothing wrong with casual sex. You deserve all the pleasure and orgasms you desire, and there’s no shame whatsoever in that.

At the same time, there’s nothing liberating or empowering about being used for sex by someone who doesn’t care about you, and sees you as convenient rather than being interested in who you are. You can do better than that – even if you’re not conventionally attractive.

If you want to have a friends with benefits situation, that’s great, and this can help fill the need for sexual release between relationships. However, it’s important that both of you are on the same page about expectations, and are both up-front and honest about the arrangement.

This only works if each of you is similarly uninterested in a deeper relationship. If one of you sees the other as a partner while the other views the whole thing as a booty call, it will only hurt the person who’s more invested. If you’re falling for someone in this situation but they don’t feel the same way, it’s best to break it off right away.

Or, if it’s not about sex, then it’s about whatever else it is they want – whether that be money, someone to emotionally support them and listen to them complain about their problems, getting favors from you, getting closer to someone you’re connected to who they’re really interested in; or whatever it is they are after.

Close-up of the feet of a couple on the bed.

(4) It’s Been a While, and They’re Not Integrating You Into Their Life At All

Have you been seeing one another for more than a few months, but you don’t know any of their friends or family or anyone else they’re close to? If that’s the case, it’s a huge red flag.

If they see you in their life for more than just a temporary fling, they’ll start making you an integral part of their life sooner rather than later. Otherwise, they don’t see you there for the longer term.

Don’t let them make excuses about drama with their ex, either. It’s reasonable to wait a little if they have young kids, and sometimes ex drama is really bad – but there should be others in their life who will be loyal to them over their ex, who you could meet in the meantime instead.

(5) It Feels Like a Constant Roller Coaster (Not the Fun Kind)

When you’re with them, or hearing from them, it can be fun and exciting.

But then, you consistently feel let down, disappointed with them, and anxious about the future with them (which is looking increasingly non-existent).

These frequent ups and downs really weigh on you. And you know you can’t keep going like this indefinitely.

People shouting while riding on a roller coaster. By Itai Aarons.

(6) You’re Spending a Lot of Time and Mental Energy Waiting on, and Worrying About, Them

Are you often preoccupied with when you’ll see or hear from them again, constantly checking your phone, and worrying about how long it’s been since you heard from them?

Are you often feeling lonely and empty about this relationship?

There are much better ways to spend your precious time on Earth than this. You don’t need this nonsense in your life.

Young person sitting outside, trying to call someone, and looking worried.

(7) Deep Down, You Just Know

Are you getting a little defensive reading some of these, because it rings a little too close to home? Or, are you nodding along, because it confirms what you already suspected, and you’re ready to face the truth?

Deep in your heart, you know things that you may or may not yet be ready to admit to yourself. But that little voice is not wrong – just listen to it, without first rushing to make rationalizations.

(8) They Have an Uncanny Sense of When You’re About to Move On, Then They Intercept

Maybe you’ve decided before, “That’s it, that’s enough, I’m done with them,” and mentally moved on, figuring you’ll let that last unanswered text lie – and assume they already have, too.

Or, maybe you’ve met someone new who shows more promise, and have been getting closer to them, starting to forget all about your latent breadcrumber.

And then, eerily enough, that’s exactly when you hear from them. They’re affectionate and charming and on their best behavior, and so hard to resist.

It’s as if they have a sixth sense about it. I don’t know how they do it, but they sure can wreak havoc this way.

Don’t fall for it. It won’t end up any better this time than it did all the previous times.

Football player intercepting a pass.

So, how can you deal with a breadcrumber, once you know what’s going on?

Really, the only way is to cut them off. No need to feel bad about it, either – they wouldn’t hesitate to ditch you if you became inconvenient to them, or if they found someone else they wanted to be with instead.

There’s no future with this type of person. You cannot ever prioritize someone who treats you like just an option. There has to be equally vested interests in a relationship, otherwise there is none.

If you’re currently in communication with them, tell them this isn’t working out for you. You can say that you want something more, and that you need to move on.

If you’re not currently in communication with them, then don’t resume it. They’ve already ghosted you (again), so feel free to delete and block their number, block them on social media, and block them anywhere else – without guilt.

In fact, block them everywhere regardless of how you end things.

Do it now, before they try to ensnare you again. You don’t need that.

You may also be wondering – why does this person do this?

Well, they are immature people with low levels of empathy, to start.

Oftentimes, they want the benefits of a relationship with you, but not the responsibilities and effort of something deeper. Other times, they’re cheating on someone else with you, though that’s not always the case. Or maybe, they want you as their “back-up plan” for when they don’t have anyone else around to fulfill their needs.

That says nothing about you, and everything about them, though. People getting breadcrumbed often feel like they did something wrong, but they probably didn’t. People who breadcrumb are the ones doing wrong.

Lots of people have been breadcrumbed, including smart, likable people who are attractive and have a lot to offer. The breadcrumber’s bad behavior and attitude doesn’t make you any less valuable.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t really matter why they do it – you’re not obligated to fix them, that’s ultimately their problem.

What you have to worry about is spotting this kind of behavior, getting away from such people, and finding people who treat you right and value you for who you are, rather than just looking at what you can do for them.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to only keeping people in your life who value you, and care about you just as much as you care about them. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo

Check out my other blog, too – Free Range Life, at It’s about financial freedom, freelancing and remote work, and traveling and the RV life.

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4 responses to “Breadcrumbing: Ghosting’s Subtle, Sadistic Cousin”

  1. These are all so true! While it can be hard to accept when you love someone and hope things will work out, if they’re doing any of these things, they’re not really prioritizing you in their life. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] you. Often, they go from distant to non-existent in your life following a period of increasingly stringing you along, just enough to keep you in their grips. Or, a friendship might naturally run its course, and each […]


  3. […] just enjoy your company when it’s convenient for them, or put your friendship/relationship on ice as a back-up until they’ve got “nothing better to […]


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