Dating Glossary: Breadcrumbing

It’s not a yellow brick road.


(Last Updated on June 20, 2019 by Datezie Editors)

As dating has evolved to a much more digital landscape, a slew of new words and trends have emerged, requiring singles to brush up on their knowledge before diving in. To ensure you’re up to date and ready to tackle the ever-changing vocabulary, reference Datezie’s Dating Glossary. Our collection defines, explains—and offers humor and strategy—to the new ABC’s of falling in love.

TDLR: Breadcrumbing: when you give the idea you’re interested in a relationship—or sex—but never follow through.

You might have to use cliff notes—but try to think back to when you read Hansel and Gretel. In the story, a brother and a sister leave a trail of breadcrumbs so they don’t lose their way home—but they get eaten along the way. When the big scary witch swoops in and tries to fatten ‘em up with candy, they don’t know how to escape since the trail is gone. At its core, this is the concept of ‘breadcrumbing’—one of the most popular dating terms these days.

If you’ve been keeping up with our Dating Glossary, it might sound a lot like curving—and you’d be right. But there’s a minor difference worth noting that you can better understand by thinking about one key component of the classic children’s story: the trail. With breadcrumbing, it isn’t curving someone’s attention toward you every few days or so, or simply not responding to a text message, but rather, actively leading them on—even sleeping with them!—and thus, leaving ‘breadcrumbs’ that you’re into them. You could think of breadcrumbing as stage two of curving. If you’re already at this level of deceit with someone—or you fear someone is leaving you bits-and-pieces of a loaf—here’s what you need to know:

What is Breadcrumbing?

As defined, psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. says breadcrumbing  is a term that refers to a drawn-out way, when dating, of keeping a person hopeful and interested, by giving periodic signals, that are flirty but non-committal. If you’re a visual person, you might remember the dynamic of Scarlett Johansson and Kevin Connolly in He’s Just Not That Into You. She calls him, dangles her carrot in front of him, goes out with him, texts him, even sleep with him—but she’s never 100 percent into the relationship. Nor does she feel comfortable labeling it as anything other than, well, fun. With breadcrumbing, you can see the trail the person left—notes, texts, smooches—often prompting you to justify the fact you’re intrigued by them, even if they leave you with more questions than answers.

What’s the History of Breadcrumbing?

Designating a term for this type of (rude) relationship behavior is a recent-ish definition, according to sexpert and relationship columnist at, Coleen Singer. Unsurprisingly, it’s also referred to as ‘Hansel and Gretelling,’ and was first published by UrbanDictionary in 2014.

Why Breadcrumbing Matters

Why would you settle for crumbs when you could be with someone who not only bakes your bread—but devours it too? Breadcrumbing is an effective waste of time (and energy)—and something all singles should be wary of. Dr. Thomas shares that the sooner you can spot the signs, the sooner you can have a direct conversation with your date to understand their intentions. “There is no guarantee that the person doing the breadcrumbing will be totally honest, but, at the very least, that person will know you’re onto what she is doing. And, if you don’t feel comfortable with his or her response, you can end the trail of breadcrumbs by ending any further communications with that person,” she continues.

You should try to fast-track your way out of this route of mixed signals, since Dr. Thomas shares that it can be a major buzzkill to your confidence. In turn, this could mean you don’t put yourself out there to meet what you really need: a 100-percent-into-you baker. “Your self-esteem may decrease with the worry of what’s wrong with you since the other person isn’t able to make a commitment.  You may be upset that she was so hot and cold with you, and you may start to have trouble trusting new potential love interests’ intentions in the future.”

If you’re the one holding the basket and walking along, leaving crumb-sized grenades everywhere, Singer says it’s time for a gut check. “It is good to be aware that you are breadcrumbing, and examine why you are doing it. Is it fear of making a commitment, or simply playing the field?,” she shares.

Where You Might Have Heard of Breadcrumbing

Depending on which side you’re on—the receiver or the giver—you could be accused of breadcrumbing, or your friends may use it to describe why you need to end a whatever-that-is-ship, ASAP. A friend could say: “Heather is breadcrumbing you dude, you deserve better.” Or, a woman who you’ve been leading on for months could finally call you out and say, “Hey, either stop breadcrumbing, and commit to this, or I’m out.”

How to Use Breadcrumbing

You can use breadcrumbing to describe the act itself, or, when you’re doing the deed, you can use the verb version of ‘to breadcrumb.’ Singer says one example would be in a conversation between friends when one says, “Kerri keeps texting me and sending selfies of herself, but has never asked me to go out on a date. I think she is breadcrumbing me!”

Or another one, via Singer: “I really like texting and Whats App’ing, back and forth with Jason, but am not sure if I actually want to try dating him. Do you think I am breadcrumbing him?”

Notable Breadcrumbing Quotes

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.” —Laken Howard

“Think breadcrumbing is just happening to millennials, or just Americans? Not according to my latest research! It’s happening for Millennials and Gen Xers across the globe, to both men and women. Many are experiencing it, but don’t know there is a term for it. Regardless of the term, the experience alone should trigger red flags.” —Clarissa Silva

Breadcrumbing is a form of breakup that’s just plain brutal. Rather than just disappearing and refusing to talk to you like in ghosting, breadcrumbing is what guys do when they just want to keep you hanging on by a thread. This way, they get to sleep with you, or get your ego stroking, but they also don’t have to commit to you.” —Ossiana Tepfenhart


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