Breadcrumbing: How to Friend Zone Your Friends!

Y’all know about ghosting. It’s this neat little trick where you talk to someone for a while, a romantic interest or even just a potential one-night-stand, and then you just disappear. Cut all ties. Vamoose.

I’m guilty of doing it. I get busy and realize “Eh, I don’t want this.” And I just let that person fade into the background and carry on with my petty life. It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s convenient. It’s terrible.

The shining star of 2017 besides the collapse of America as we know it is now breadcrumbing. Urban Dictionary depicts this lovely new phrase as “The act of sending out flirtatious, but non-committal text messages (ie “breadcrumbs”) to members of the opposite sex in order to lure a sexual partner without expending much effort.” Think “Wanna hang out?” texts at random times, think occasional “likes” in social media, think a room-temperature conversation with a modicum of personal contact and then nothing for three weeks. Hansel and Gretel aren’t the only ones getting real shady.



These breadcrumbs don’t lead you home. They lead you astray. And while that shit applies to romantic relationships or booty calls or whatever floats your boat, it also applies to friendships. That’s the icing on the truly stunning cake. And while it seems to be trending in the early and dismal days of 2017, it’s nothing new. Breadcrumbing has been a thing for years, even before social media became the most dominant mode of communication.

But social tech exacerbates the problem. A friend may like your Facebook posts but never talk to you until they need something, and then disappear again. They might religiously keep a Snap Streak up by sending mass Snaps. They could hang out for a couple times a week and suddenly disappear for a while without notice or prompting. And the funny thing is most of us are like this with people in our lives who we either just don’t gel with very well or don’t see enough outside of the Internet and random sightings in public to give much of a damn about. But we keep up the pretense. We pretend we care by sprinkling some acknowledgment here and there and tell ourselves we are still good people. “I’m not cutting them out of my life! I’m not being a bitch about it like some people!” Nah, we’re bitches. Let’s be real here.

As Professor Sherry Turkle says from MIT, “These are connections, not conversations. They can have the paradoxical effect of making the person who receives them feel let down rather than gratified, but then, confused: Is one asking for too much? Should one feel satisfied with a smiley face or a series of exclamation marks or a string of emojis? What constitutes being recognized?


Here’s the thing. Lasting friendships take effort. They take commitment. But those of us suckling Facebook’s teat don’t like commitment in any form. Everyone’s afraid to care more than they should because that might come off as too much. And talking in person? Oh shit. Forget that, what if something like a confrontation happens? We can’t have confrontation, the media and politicians and scrappy fuck boys at the bar do that for us.

So we maintain our passive friendships because we think it’s better than telling the other person we just don’t have time for them anymore. We make excuses and try to pander to them by sending emojis or go on a liking spree on Instagram. Maybe hang out at the bar or with other friends we probably won’t talk to for a few months. And our friends do the same to us. But is that really a relationship? Is the occasional peppering of attention and constant withdrawal really maintenance? Or is it like putting Duct Tape on a crack in a bucket and going, “Well, it might leak but I’ll worry about it later”?

The way I see it, breadcrumbing with a romantic interest in whatever form you choose seems kinder than doing it to a friend. The goal is clear: they want to get with you. How or in what capacity is murky at best, but the intention is obvious. With friends…it isn’t so. What am I keeping this person around for if not for someone to hang out and share time with? Am I saving them for later like leftovers? Do they have a service to offer me? Do I actually like them or are they just that person who’s usually around my other friends?

What’s the point in a passive friendship?

Passive-aggressive friendships at least have honesty and a little spice. You can take each other to task for being shitty and still know it’s worth it in the end without getting too confrontational or too “real”. We’re all probably guilty of breadcrumbing someone and probably won’t stop because it’s comfortable. But maybe with a little bit of work and effort, we can learn to weed out the acquaintances we’re afraid of offending or hurting and get real with our good friends who make us feel unimportant. Call them out, have an actual conversation, or build a board game; be active in relationships and show people they don’t suck as much as the government.


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