The practice of breadcrumbing — aka when someone gives you just enough attention to keep you around, when clearly they're not really invested in you — is an unfortunately common way of fading out on a potential romantic interest. When you're genuinely interested in someone, it's a terrible feeling to realize they're just stringing you along for their own entertainment (or to keep the booty-call door open). If you're suspicious this is happening to you, you have to figure out how to respond to someone who's breadcrumbing you — because no one deserves to be treated like that.
"Since 'breadcrumbing' is all about stringing someone along, it's hard for the person on the other end of the 'crumbs' to figure out exactly where he or she stands," Erika Kybartas, matchmaker and dating expert at It's Just Lunch, a dating service for busy professionals, tells Bustle. "The best way to handle a breadcrumber is to either not follow the 'crumbs' by not responding or by setting very clear expectations of what you want."
Breadcrumbing can be massively confusing because you're getting tons of mixed signals: one minute they're blowing up your phone and the next minute, they're blowing off your plans to hang out. Figuring out how to deal with breadcrumbing is easier said than done, and can honestly be a little uncomfortable if you're not used to being direct about your emotions. But realistically, the only way to combat breadcrumbing is to be upfront about your expectations and not "reward" the breadcrumber's crappy treatment of you.
Next time you notice someone feeding you breadcrumbs to string you along (whether that's via text, on social media, or even IRL), here are seven ways you can respond and nip that in the bud.
1Change How You Respond
If you normally cave and respond to their 1 a.m. "u up?" texts, try switching things up and either responding at a normal hour the next day, or else ignoring their obvious booty-call attempt altogether.
"Test if they are willing to move the relationship beyond the rules and restrictions that they have set," Rhonda Milrad, LCSW and founder of online relationship community Relationup, tells Bustle. "If they are only texting you at night, don’t respond and instead, text them during the day. Find their roadblock and push against it. When you see what they are willing to do, you can then decide if you want to continue under those terms."
2Attempt To Make IRL Plans
A classic breadcrumber move is keeping things confined to text and casually avoiding IRL plans — because if they're only interested in getting an ego boost from texting you, why bother hanging out? If you're actually into them, though, and want to test the waters, try making a date and see how they respond.
"If the person 'breadcrumbing' you is someone you're interested in seeing, I would recommend texting back something like, 'Hey! My day's going great. I actually have some free time this Saturday and Sunday — would you like to grab a coffee?'" Kybartas says. "If the person says they don't, then you have to decide if you want to wait for more 'crumbs' or if you simply want to end it then and there."
3Call Them Out If They're Flaky
Someone telling you they need a "raincheck" can easily be code for "I'm not interested, but I want to delay actually saying so." Instead of continually letting someone get away with this, next time they flake, don't be afraid to call them out.
"If someone always gives you rainchecks, then say: ‘I’ve noticed other things continue get in the way of our plans to spend time together. I’ll wait for you to make the next plans and trust that will ensure they’ll happen,'" Christine Baumgartner, dating and relationship coach at The Perfect Catch, tells Bustle. "Then be sure to continue to make plans with family and friends and not keep days open because you’re waiting for them to make plans. If they continue to not be available or break their plans with you... move on."
4Confront Them Directly
A lot of people might shy away from this option because it feels too "harsh," but the truth is, being direct and upfront about what you want romantically is a sign of confidence and maturity, and if someone can't handle that, then they probably aren't someone you could get serious with, anyway.
"Try having an open and honest conversation about what you are noticing," Milrad says. "Something as open ended [as], 'I notice that you only text me late at night or consistently cancel, and I am wondering why that is,' can start a conversation. Or you can be more direct and question if this behavior reflects their interest in the relationship: 'I notice that you only only text me late at night or consistently cancel, and I am wondering if that means that you really don’t see us going anywhere.' People are often disarmed by someone be[ing] direct, but it can lead to a very straightforward and honest conversation where you can get answers."
5Reevaluate Your Expectations
Just because someone is breadcrumbing you doesn't necessarily mean you have to cut them out of your life. If you're cool with occasional flirting/booty-calling, and can separate that from your 'serious' dating life, then more power to you (just make sure you're being honest with yourself).
"Breadcrumbing is frustrating if you are looking for something more in a relationship... but maybe you aren’t looking for a more serious commitment with this person and can be perfectly happy letting them be in your life, as long as it works for you," Milrad says. "If you want to text with them late at night, then do it. If you enjoy having sex with them and don’t mind that they disappear for a bit thereafter, then have fun with that. You just have to set the right expectations so that you remain realistic and not get upset that this relationship is not progressing."
6Deflect Skeezy Compliments
When someone is totally MIA in your life and just *happens* to pop back up after you post a super hot selfie on Instagram or Snapchat, then you know they're sliding into your inbox for one reason (read: they want sex). Instead of playing into their not-so-subtle attempt to woo their way into your pants, simply brush off any compliments with a joke. Or, if you're interested in meeting up instead of flirting (or sexting) back and forth, try asking them to hang out and see how they respond.
"If someone only interacts with you [via] social media and not in real life, then say ‘I’ve enjoyed getting to know you through (Facebook, Snapchat, etc.)... Let’s set up a time to talk on the phone or in person.’ If they refuse, move on," Baumgartner says.
7Cut Things Off Completely
Ultimately, if a breadcrumber's constant hot-and-cold attitude starts to negatively impact your emotions, then it might be time to just call things off and start fresh with someone new — someone who hopefully will devote a lot more time and attention to you.
"If you are looking for a serious relationship and are getting signals that you are being breadcrumbed, then cut it off," Milrad says. "It is too much work to get a breadcrumber to take the relationship seriously and too much heartache. Let the person know that you 'would have liked to have seen where this could have gone, but really want to be with someone who is at a place in their life where they want a more serious and consistent relationship.' The message is clear: I don’t have time or energy for something that looks like there is no future."
No matter how you choose to handle a breadcrumber, only one thing really matters: that you know what you want for your love life, and aren't afraid to go after it.