According to Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and human development at California State University, San Bernardino, breadcrumbing:
“is leading someone on romantically using online or electronic forums (think: social media or texting) to keep someone’s interest in you, even if you never intend to become romantically involved with them.”
Red Flags you are being breadcrumbed:
- They are less invested in getting together than you are – They okay with texting, messaging and emailing and even talking on the phone but make plans to meet, cancel or don’t show up. They always seem too busy for you.
- You never know where you stand with them – They are sporadic, inconsistent, and unpredictable in their expression of interest in you.
- They seem warm toward you but cold at the same time – They show interest in you but in measured little doses, just enough to keep you thinking they are interested.
- You can’t understand or explain their actions – You are often left confused or frustrated after interacting with them. They might even go absent for periods of time.
According to Campbell, people engage in breadcrumbing “because their self-esteem is impacted by how much attention they can secure from others.” Although the exact reasons for the behavior vary, there are a few psychological patterns she points to as to why people do it.
- They feel better about themselves – The more interest from others they maintain, the better they feel about themselves.
- They need validation from others – They don’t feel comfortable or confident unless they get constant reassurance from others that they are worthy or valuable.
- They’re narcissistic – Often, these individuals have a personality characterized by narcissism as well as a game-playing, shallow approach to relationships. They don’t feel guilty about manipulating others and playing with people’s emotions.
- They’re already in a relationship – Another reason this can happen is that they are already in a relationship with someone yet are still seeking attention from others.
What do you do if you are being breadcrumbed?
First and foremost, “the solution is to work on yourself,” says Campbell. Augment your self-esteem by engaging in activities that you excel at and by treating yourself kindly. “Engage in self-care, use positive self-talk,” Campbell advises.
Taking care of your own well-being is an important step in boosting your self-esteem, according to Campbell. “You set the example for how others should treat you, so don’t tolerate poor treatment,” she explains. “You deserve someone who is willing to give you the same amount of attention you are willing to invest.”