Have you heard about West Elm Caleb? You probably have if you’re here. If you haven’t, here’s your final warning—you can go for a walk, clean your kitchen, or watch the Yellowjackets finale. You can engage with something, anything, else than this increasingly weird viral cycle that’s happened with a guy named Caleb this week.
If you don’t feel like heeding my warning and don’t know who he is, West Elm Caleb is a 25 year old designer at West Elm. He’s 6’4”, he has a mustache, he has an affinity for coffee dates, he has two playlists he sends a lot of people. He LOVES texting. I don’t know any of this firsthand—it’s all info I’ve gleaned anecdotally from screenshots on TikTok, via women who have gone on dates with him and had their feelings hurt. It’s getting uncomfortable now, with thousands more people who have not had direct contact with him getting involved- doxing him, threatening to find him in a covid testing line, trying to get him fired, and companies creating ad campaigns around this trend. To which I, as another adult woman idly watching all of this go down say: Please stop!
To be clear, it sounds like he was an asshole. He led a lot of girls on, he lied to them about his intentions, his dating history, ghosted them after a few to six weeks of dates. In one case, there is an allegation he sent unsolicited nudes. It doesn’t exactly sound like casual dating, and maybe sending someone a four-hour playlist and then ghosting them could qualify as manipulation. But is it abuse? This is all behavior we can classify as “extremely uncool.” It’s perfectly okay for women to compare notes about a guy who hurt all of their feelings or weirded them out.
What’s happening here, as what’s happened with so many words, movements, and trends, is context collapse. A group of girls started comparing notes. That is fine. Before it started trending, it felt insular, contained within a context on TikTok that felt like a group chat or a girl’s night. A lot of people do this! It’s how you can develop decent instincts for what to avoid—my present self has better sense and has learned what-to-avoid lessons thanks to the dating history of 25-year-old me. I would have loved to have sidestepped the tears I have shed over my own Calebs, but that hurt taught me lessons, and those lessons are invaluable.
You really can’t blame any of the women for being shocked or hurt when they first found out that they’d been lied to. One of those women, Kate Glavan, who made an early video about him, has since gone on to ask that people not dox Caleb or try to get him fired, speaking with nuance and grace about her own hurt feelings and why she said what she initially said—most notably, “I don’t really give a fuck if this man lives or dies.” Reflecting on her anger and hurt feelings is admirable and mature behavior, and she’s far from the problem here—much closer to a solution. Caleb has apparently copied and pasted an apology to many women, and while the sincerity of that is being debated, it also is up to the women who have interacted with him to decide that, and not the jackals refreshing the hashtag, myself included.
We’re continually losing our touch for what to do when someone’s not acting like a great person but isn’t a historically notable monster, and we’re going on two years of not socializing in the ways we miss desperately. We have learned much after the advent of #MeToo, #SpeakingOut, and the Shitty Media Men List about how to talk in public about criminal behavior that was hidden for far too long. But What we do know is that what’s happened in the past—be it Justine Sacco, Bean Dad or West Elm Caleb— this isn’t how you solve the root issues of their individual behavior. It’s not a feminist act to try to pin all dating woes onto one guy who designs couches, and we cannot outlaw heartbreak. What we can do is adapt better policies of when to interact, and how.
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