West Elm Caleb and TikTok’s Obsessive Parasocial Tendencies


West Elm Caleb’s story and his terrible dating actions have gone viral. (Courtesy of Instagram)

If you’re like me, your TikTok For You page might have been filled this past week with videos talking about the infamous New York City dater, “West Elm Caleb.” For those of you whose TikTok page isn’t like mine and you haven’t seen the videos, West Elm Caleb is a furniture designer for West Elm (hence the name) and has seemingly matched with every woman that is on a dating app in New York City. Each woman has roughly the same story: romantic dates, active texting and playlists made just for them. However, in every story, West Elm Caleb becomes distant and eventually ghosts them. Many of these women, and the people watching their videos, have connected the accounts to create a very messy timeline in which West Elm Caleb was dating many of these women simultaneously. Naturally, the story went viral on TikTok, with many viewers accusing him of love bombing, narcissistic behavior and diagnosing him with mental disorders without ever being personally involved with him. While the whole thing can be entertaining to watch, we also need to consider the fact that West Elm Caleb is still a person; he’s a private figure who is now being subjected to thousands of accusations and harassment solely because someone made a TikTok. 

Is West Elm Caleb’s dating behavior wrong? Yes. Does his behavior warrant users diving into his life and harassing him to this extent? No.

West Elm Caleb has engaged in some incredibly terrible behavior. His serial dating, ghosting and manipulation are issues that he faces, ingrained in the culture of these dating apps. The issues brought up with West Elm Caleb are common dating issues, whether we like it or not. The term “ghosting” is now a well-known phenomenon that almost everyone on dating apps experiences, in which someone cuts off all communication with a person without explanation. A simple Google search of the term brings up hundreds of articles on ghosting, its meaning and how to deal with it. Even if we view it as an unacceptable dating practice, it has become a widespread and almost normalized issue, in which the person ghosted receives no closure and often a fair amount of insecurity

Women who also interacted with West Elm Caleb use the termlove bombing” to describe his behavior. Love bombing, a form of manipulation that attempts to influence a person by frequent demonstrations of attention and affection, is identified by psychologists as a part of the cycle of abuse and a sign of narcissism. Is West Elm Caleb all of these things? I don’t know, and that’s because I was never personally involved with West Elm Caleb. Yes, West Elm Caleb’s behavior is terrible, but does that grant people on TikTok who don’t have personal experience with the man to harass him? 

There’s a clear difference between talking about one’s personal experience with ghosting, love bombing or the issues in dating culture and creating a search for West Elm Caleb (exposing his profile, last name, phone number and address), as well as calling for him to be fired from his job. A mob of TikTok users have descended on this man, many being uninvolved in the situation, simply looking for views. There is a clear line drawn at harassing someone you have never had personal experience with. We can talk about the issues prevalent in the story of West Elm Caleb without harassing him off of the internet.

This manhunt isn’t the first time that a story involving someone’s personal life has been blown out of control through TikTok’s algorithm. Think back to the beginning of the fall semester, when Couch Guy was all over people’s TikTok For You pages; people would analyze his body language, diagnose him with various mental illnesses and even led some people at his college to try to interact with him solely for TikTok content. People spent so much time invading his dating life and personal history to prove if he was cheating. Just like in the story of Couch Guy, TikTok exacerbated the problem of West Elm Caleb. These women wouldn’t have started sharing their stories about West Elm Caleb in the first place until they saw others talking about it on TikTok. The person who made the initial TikTok wasn’t referencing West Elm Caleb when talking about her dating experience. Still, the comments led to the issue to be more thoroughly examined by her and many other internet sleuths.

TikTok’s algorithm also promotes and amplifies stories that can snowball and become problematic. West Elm Caleb went viral for the same reason that Couch Guy and countless others did: people relate to it. TikTok puts videos on your For You page using an algorithm to ensure that you receive content that will make you want to stay on the app longer. It’s incredibly personalized; no one sees the same content when they go on TikTok, and that’s a part of why it has become so prevalent and the most visited site on the internet. People who are seeing videos about West Elm Caleb probably relate to the issues that these women are facing with this serial dater. In this way, West Elm Caleb has become a figurehead for people’s issues with dating apps and their dating experiences. 

People would never say what they have said about West Elm Caleb if they saw him on the streets of New York. TikTok users feel comfortable investigating and commenting on the situation because they don’t have to face the person that they are investigating. The story of West Elm Caleb brings up a variety of points about dating apps and dating red flags that should be discussed in a larger context. Yes, West Elm Caleb’s story and his terrible dating actions have gone viral, but that doesn’t mean that people should engage in a witch hunt.

Samantha Scott, FCRH ’24, is an international political economy major from Columbus, Ohio.