My complex feelings about West Elm Caleb
Couch Guy sat so West Elm Caleb could run.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, from Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.🧩
FWIW, I have never matched with West Elm Caleb on a dating app. —Kate
In high school, my First Real Relationship ended at a bonfire, when my friends pulled me aside to tell me my boyfriend had been cheating on me. I saw red—no, not even red. I didn’t see anything but the few steps in front of me as I marched to my car and drove to his house, calling him over and over along the way. He never picked up, or responded to my scathing text messages telling him I knew what he was doing and to come outside.
I drove home defeated. While he certainly knew he had been found out, I didn’t get any kind of closure or release…until I realized that if he wouldn’t talk to me over the phone or in person, there was another place I could unleash my bottled-up anger: Facebook.
This was the era when writing on your friend’s Facebook wall was the equivalent of sending them a Snap, except everyone that person was Facebook friends with could see it. I wanted to make sure everyone at our school knew what he did, so I wrote it all out on his wall—everything I heard, all the ways he lied, and how he didn’t even have the courage to pick up the phone when I had found out.
I honestly can’t remember what happened next. I know some people messaged me with their sympathies, I know the personalities in our grade clowned around in the comments. Whatever. This is all to say, I am no stranger to the impulse to take my anger at a shitty man to the internet.
So at first, I, too, was entertained by West Elm Caleb. Two days ago, a user named @meemshou posted a TikTok video warning the women of New York City about a serial ghoster named Caleb who worked at West Elm. Quickly, the comments filled with women, drawn to the post by the algorithm, who had been ghosted by this man or had other fuckboy experiences. Things really blew up when it turned out a popular creator, Kate Glavan, had just gone on a date with him, and found out he had been in bed with another TikTokker just hours before.
Now, the #WestElmCaleb hashtag has over 15 million views and encompasses not just other women’s experiences, but photos of him, screenshots of his now-deleted socials, and speculation from people everywhere from California to Australia.
An unbelievable number of women say they have been love-bombed and then ghosted by this person. One woman says she was sent unsolicited nude photos. Before I go further, I want to make clear that West Elm Caleb sounds like he was extremely shitty to women, and a bunch of those women finding each other and sharing their experiences (including the fact that he would apparently send them all the same “personalized” Spotify playlist) is exactly what he deserves.
But it was naive to think it would just end there. As reporter Taylor Lorenz mentioned on Twitter, the West Elm Instagram is now being flooded with comments, including a comment that Caleb assaults people—something that I cannot find any person claiming on TikTok. TikTok itself even posted about #WestElmCaleb on Twitter before deleting it.
I don’t think this is what @meemshou or Glavin or any of the other original women meant to happen. Glavin even stressed in the comments that she did not agree with sharing his photo, and that she only came forward once people had pieced together from other TikToks and her previous cryptic videos that she had gone on dates with him. But just as Julliard's Instagram was swarmed by commenters after the school rejected TikTokker Axel Webber, the mob mentality of TikTok can outgrow and escape its source.
We really don’t know much about Caleb. But 48 hours into all this, TikTok will tell you he’s a master manipulator with a personality disorder. I’m hesitant to hop on board with any of that because we just watched this happen with Couch Guy, who later wrote an essay in Slate about the harm of doing exactly what we’re doing now.
We do know a little bit about how Caleb is faring. Glavan shared texts he sent after the original video came out in which he said that he’s “really upset right now.” He told another woman he was “truly shocked and pretty traumatized”—and this was before the saga had escalated to where it is now.
“There’s a massive gap between the behavior and the consequence,” reporter Katie Notopoulos tweeted.
I wish there was a space to say that someone—who’s not a public figure, just a guy—can be guilty of incredibly shitty behavior and doesn’t deserve worldwide public shaming where that wouldn't be received as a defense of the behavior.
I’ve been the victim of public shaming. I’ve watched my friends go through the trauma of public harassment campaigns. It’s horrible and all-consuming and there’s no way to cope with it other than to wait it out—not an easy task when you have no way of knowing if things will die down or just get worse. And as Couch Guy taught us, these things have the potential to get extremely out of control.
I truly hope Caleb reevaluates the ways he’s treated women. I hope he never sends an unsolicited nude photo again. I hope he feels genuine remorse and offers a satisfactory apology to the women he’s hurt. But I don’t know if 15 million other people need to be part of it.