how to break free from breadcrumbing in a relationship

how to break free from breadcrumbing in a relationship

Let’s talk about how to break free from breadcrumbing in a relationship. First of all, what is breadcrumbing? Psychology Today says, “Breadcrumbing is a term for stringing someone along with small nuggets of communication—but never fully committing to a relationship.” In the novel Miserably Happy, the main character, Livy, falls in love with Anthony and soon discovers the painful reality of being breadcrumbed by him.

In real life, it’s a painful experience. I’ve experienced it and maybe you have too. Maybe you’re in the middle of this type of experience now and feel hopeless about ever breaking free. I’m here to tell you it’s not hopeless. Read on!

First of all, let’s get clear on the signs of breadcrumbing. Taken from the same article, Psychology Today tells us the following:

Behaviors you can observe from the breadcrumber:

  • Inconsistent and erratic communication
  • Speaking via text or social media but not committing to spending time together in person
  • Not following through on plans that are made
  • Surface-level communication that lacks depth, vulnerability, or details about the person’s life
  • An imbalanced relationship—they don’t reciprocate your level of interest
  • Focusing on the physical side of the relationship rather than focusing on all sides of the relationship

Feelings you can observe in yourself

  • Feeling confused and uncertain about the state of the relationship
  • Feeling a roller coaster of emotion, such as sad, then hopeful, then disappointment once again
  • Feeling self-doubt, such as questioning if you did something wrong
  • Feeling anxious or dependent on the breadcrumber for the next point of contact
  • Feeling used or manipulated
  • Feeling badly about yourself after interacting with them
  • Feeling lonely or hopeless about the relationship

Now that we’re clear on the signs, let me tell you a bit about my personal experience on how to break free from breadcrumbing. Years ago, the guy and I were in a relationship. Even when we were in a relationship, he popped in and out with texts at his convenience and always blamed it on work. So, of course, I tried to understand and give him the benefit of the doubt. But our communication patterns via text were almost always on his terms.

Basically, after we broke up, he wanted to keep me in his life but completely on his terms… which meant the same type of interaction, popping in and out randomly, always blaming it on work and since being broken up, never wanting to talk about anything deep. Now the breadcrumbing felt even worse because we weren’t in a committed relationship so there were fewer guarantees about sharing real thoughts or genuine connections. It came down to the fact that when it was easy to connect, that’s when he’d shoot a text. Phone calls were pretty much non-existent.

People Need Different Things

All things considered, here’s the biggest thing I learned from the experience, and if you can realize it here, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and heartache: it doesn’t matter if the other person who is breadcrumbing you means to or not. I repeat, it doesn’t matter if the the person means to or not. We all need different things based on past experiences and what we want now, and that’s why it’s important to find someone who is emotionally compatible. Or, even more realistically, you both are willing to compromise and be emotionally available to each other in that compromise.

My ex-boyfriend could have said, “Hey, since the week is always crazy, let’s set aside every Tuesday night to catch up for a bit,” or anything like that to show a compromise. But to him, that was too constraining. Scheduling anything and sticking to it schedule-wise for catching up was rare. Yes, he has too many plates in the air most of the time. Yes, he can be scatterbrained at times. But for me, the pattern was so ingrained in his personality that it wasn’t going to change unless he tried, and he wasn’t motivated to make that change.

He didn’t have intentions of hurting me. He only had intentions of keeping things light and on his terms as far as how it worked for him to communicate. And many times that meant he was thoughtless and inconsiderate without meaning to be.

Still, it doesn’t matter. Don’t make excuses for them. Don’t say they don’t mean to be hurtful. I said that too many times and, as a result, I was continuously hurt by his lack of investment, and I needed to break free from our unhealthy texting patterns. I was still in love to a degree he wasn’t, and our communication patterns were hurting me, not him.

How did I break free from breadcrumbing?

I visualized my future self.

Who I am becoming

What my future standards are in my relationships

The woman I want to continue to grow into

I stepped up my standards and realized if I’m to become the woman I want to be, living in my highest self, that means not continuously subjecting myself to someone else’s thoughtless behavior.

Whenever you think you want to hear from the breadcrumber, just think of the pain you’re subjecting yourself to when you don’t get the reciprocation you want. Think of the pain, not the pleasure in the relationship and put yourself first. Take care of yourself and stop creating patterns of setting yourself up to be hurt. If they want to change and step it up, you have a choice to try it or not, but don’t wait around for change. It doesn’t usually happen. Like I said, people many times need different things for different reasons.

Most importantly, visualize your best version of yourself, what that looks and feels like, and move toward your highest self.

It may be difficult at first but I’m telling you, it gets easier every day and you’ll become freer.

The last thing I’ll say on this is if you can find things in the relationship to be grateful for, while leaving it behind, even better! I know I’m grateful for the things I learned, including things that helped me figure out my creative expression and the tools to use to get here. I’m also thankful for the humor in that relationship, the travel, and sharing that love with him when it was good. Every experience brings us something we can take into the next experience to become a better version of ourselves.

The Staff at Psychology Today

Psychology Today

The article asks, “How can people cope with someone’s inability to commit?”
It goes on to say, “It can sometimes feel like society today struggles with commitment—when dating, in friendships, or at work. One way to handle flakiness is by acknowledging that it has affected you—rather than thinking that you “shouldn’t take it personally” or you should “just get over it.” Honor your moral integrity and the integrity of the reliable, committed people who surround you. Reflecting on your integrity and vowing to uphold it can help you recover your power after being treated disrespectfully.”


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