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When you get to know someone romantically, you should be able to expect them to be honest about their feelings for you – otherwise why bother? But sometimes you meet someone who seems interested in you but is not ready to get involved in anything that is close to a real relationship. If this sounds familiar, you may be a victim of breadcrumbing.

It’s a cute, albeit apt name, when someone seems to be constantly signaling their interest in extending a relationship – but it only gives you enough to make you come back for more, be it an unexpected call at night or a couple unsolicited, earlier morning heart eye emoji texts. A breadcrumb will never give out in quantities that really satisfy your emotional needs – but they will feed you just enough to keep you from flying around the stall, so to speak.

What does breadcrumbing look like in a relationship?

It’s an old chestnut with a name that corresponds to the internet age. Urban Dictionary defines breadcrumbing as follows:

When the “crush” has no intention of taking things further, but they like the attention. So that you flirt here or there, send dm/ Texts just to keep the person interested in knowing damn good they stay single.

Surely the behavior has existed as long as people have courted one another; in less meme-worthy terms, it is also referred to as “moving someone on”. But unlike its equally harmful cousins Slow fading and ghostingBreadcrumbing is more about pissing someone off for attention without really giving them much in terms of real, high-quality interaction.

Maybe that person just wants to talk to someone when they feel lonely, so they text them and start a conversation. They seem to be building a relationship, but when you ask if they’d like to meet in person, they’ll get crickets in response.

The hours of immediacy of SMS and direct messages only make the problem worse, the psychologist notes Val Walker, who writes for Psychology Today. According to a study she points out, while breadcrumbing people stay tied to their devices, waiting for warnings that may never come.

“Breadcrumbing uses amplifiers that stimulate addictive behavior (eagerly awaiting likes, random messages, praise, encouraging comments, flirtatious texts and photos)” Walker writes. “The basic motivator of this behavior is the expectation of the reward.”

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Obviously, being breaded doesn’t feel good, but it can be easy to fall for. Not that you should beat yourself up over it – when people use this type of tactic, it often says more about their problems than anything about you. As Kelly Campbell, professor of psychology at California State University in San Bernardino told Brides magazine, low self-esteem, and a need for approval are constant traits of people who have breadcrumbs. “They don’t feel comfortable or confident unless they are constantly reassured by others that they are worthy or valuable,” she said. As a result, they often seek the mere form of that affirmation just to feel better for a moment.

What to do when breaded

There are really only two ways to put an end to the agony of breading. You can confront the person directly, of course, but it is unlikely to cause any meaningful change in their behavior; Even so, letting them know you’ve been hurt can be cathartic. Walker, on the other hand, advised speaking to others about the experience, especially if it bothers you, in order to get a sense of your own validation.

She wrote:

Call it by its name and condemn the practice. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. They were also likely breaded at some point in their own life. Or write in your diary.

Once you recognize breadcrumbs for what it is, you will feel more confident about yourself if you choose to just stop taking the bait.

Finally, never blame yourself. It is not your fault that you are treated like this. Understand that you did nothing to deserve such insincerity. Also, once you’ve named and processed the presence of a breadcrumb in your life, you will be much less likely to stand someone else trying in the future.