If you’ve spent even five minutes on TikTok this week, you may have seen at least one video referencing a new For Your Page villain: West Elm Caleb.
According to the trending clips, Caleb is a 25-year-old furniture designer for West Elm. The white, conventionally attractive, 6’4” designer seemed to do pretty well on dating apps, where he’d meet women. In these TikTok videos, the women who say they have dated Caleb described how these relationships generally included romantic dates, active texting, and Spotify playlists. Many creators have used the phrase “love bombing” in their description of Caleb’s dating style, or the use of excessive flattery and romance early in a relationship that is often a red flag. These stories also end in the same way: Caleb becomes distant and eventually ghosts, like a mirage in the New York dating desert.
Funny enough, a video about a different New York ghoster named Caleb is what sparked the viral West Elm Caleb phenomenon. Creator Mimi Shou (@meemshou on TikTok) shared a funny video about dating in NYC, specifically about dating then being ghosted by a tall man named Caleb. The comments were quickly filled with other girls asking if this guy happened to work at West Elm.
Shou had not dated West Elm Caleb (though she said she has matched with him), but she did post a follow-up TikTok detailing the specific chain of events that one of West Elm Caleb’s exes had described to her: tender moments that culminate in Caleb’s ultimate disappearance.
Following Shou’s TikTok, creators @kateglavan and @kellsbellsbaby came forward with their own stories of petered-out relationships with Caleb. Along with the nice dates and corny playlists, they say he told them both that he was no longer on the apps where they had met. But in these videos, the women have cobbled together a messy timeline that accuses him of dating all of them at the same time.
Unfortunately, West Elm Caleb’s poor dating etiquette isn’t exactly unique. If you’ve dated at all in your twenties in any city, especially in the era of apps, you’ve likely been played by a version of him at some point in your life. You may be getting ghosted by your personal West Elm Caleb right this minute.
Those shitty exes, however, don’t always get a catchy nickname and become infamous overnight on social media. The reach of this story in particular is pretty extraordinary, given the way dating horror stories are often the backbone of viral posts almost daily. The TikTok algorithm is a smart but slippery thing that amplifies stories in mysterious and often problematic ways. Shou, the first person to go viral in this saga, is a popular creator who had already gone viral with her joke video on the Other Caleb. But once it reached the messier side of TikTok, all hell broke loose.
Dating horror stories are viral catnip on Twitter and TikTok. One of the big trends on the latter over the past month has been the screen recording of people’s cringe audio messages on Hinge, often pulled directly from their profiles and usually posted without covering their name or face.
Most people use dating apps with the understanding that a post will be private. Yet by nature, dating profiles are at least semi-public. Unless you use an app that has explicitly banned the screenshotting of profiles, like celeb-favorite app Raya, you are not necessarily protected from the circulation of your profile in group chats or even TikTok. In the case of West Elm Caleb, his doxxing was swift. Creators who hadn’t even gone on dates with him were quick to share screenshots of his profile and even his last name.
Of course, since his place of work is part of his widely-spread nickname, he has become the target of an online harassment campaign. Now, with his own social pages either hidden or deleted, West Elm’s social media comments have instead been filled with anti-Caleb sentiments. The comments are full of jokes as well as cries for the designer to be removed from his job. Many of those informal petitions to doxx him have come from one creator’s story of getting two unsolicited dick pics from West Elm Caleb, without having ever met him in person. He supposedly ghosted her, too.
As he did in the stories from these women, Caleb has become a ghost online — if he even had a significant presence to begin with. In less than a week, a person who seems to be a pretty normal twentysomething single has become a symbol of something larger, a punching bag meant to represent the millions of brief but bad exes those perpetuating an online harassment campaign against him have likely experienced themselves.
As much as West Elm Caleb’s alleged actions are a prime example of how to not date around, the reaction is an ever bigger stumble. If this is meant to be justice, who exactly does it serve? Caleb himself has been M.I.A. (He has not returned Rolling Stone’s request for comment; neither has West Elm). Instead, the details of his dating life have been pieced together through brief videos, spinning out into an outrage cycle, falling somewhere on the messy TikTok amateur investigation spectrum between Couch Guy and Sabrina Prater.
While the many young women who have shared their experiences had every right to air out their pain and anger, the hordes of trigger-happy commenters who consistently muddle the line between real abuse and shitty behavior have lost the plot. What has resulted is a massive online harassment campaign against a fairly average 25-year-old whose biggest crime so far is being a bad communicator.
This shouldn’t stop other people from wanting to connect online with strangers who have had similar bad experiences. The West Elm Caleb fiasco has led to other users sharing their own versions of serial ghosts, each situation bearing varying levels of intensity. If it allows them to feel less alone in their experience or warn someone else who is about to be hurt, that’s more justice than any uninvolved commenter, flooding Some Random Guy’s job’s social accounts, can provide.
As for Caleb, he does seem to be on an apology tour. One creator who said she had matched with but eventually ghosted him herself posted a funny video of her reaction to allegedly receiving an apology from West Elm Caleb, who had just assumed he had ghosted her. Glavan’s viral tale of her Caleb encounter ended with him confiding in her over the sudden viral fame and how upset he was over it.
Hopefully, as every serial ghoster should, West Elm Caleb learns from his experience and grows up. But based on the weak apology a friend of mine received from a 40-year-old man who just ghosted her in the midst of this story unfolding, that’s not always guaranteed.