Is West Elm Caleb The Lesson In Love-Bombing We All Needed?
Let’s talk about the IRL John Tucker.
For fans of early 2000s rom-coms, the story of John Tucker Must Die is a familiar one. Three women realize that they’ve all been played by the same man and join forces to come up with a plan to destroy him. The villain eventually finds redemption, and the movie ends with an ahead-of-its-time portrayal of non-monogamy. Though it starts with a startlingly similar premise, West Elm Caleb’s story looks slightly different. It all happened over TikTok, for one. And unlike his fictional predecessor, a sweeping redemption arc doesn’t seem forthcoming for Caleb Hunter, 25. But that doesn’t mean this viral story of unfortunate dates is fruitless. In fact, West Elm Caleb might just be the lesson in love-bombing we all needed (even if it’s one that we never really wanted).
On Jan. 18, a series of TikToks went viral, each of them accusing Caleb of having matched, love-bombed, and ghosted plenty of women (ahem, seemingly half of New York City) with varying degrees of overlap. According to the videos, Caleb exhibited close to the same troubling pattern with all of the women dated. But unlike in John Tucker Must Die, these women’s initial instinct was not to start lobbing volleyballs at each other or plan an in-depth smear campaign. Mass cancellation never seemed to be the goal. Based on the videos, it looks like the women involved simply wanted to work together to solve the puzzle of Caleb’s far-reaching love life. So let’s get into it.
Who Is West Elm Caleb?
West Elm Caleb, nicknamed for his job as a furniture designer at (you guessed it!) West Elm, seemed like your average —well, better than average — New York City dater. Handsome, 6’4”, and with a scruffy mustache, he nailed the hipster look on his dating app profile. But that’s not too surprising, considering he’s reportedly a seriously skilled dater. (As of Jan. 20, he could not be reached for comment, and all of his social media appears to have been deleted. Elite Daily reached out to West Elm for comment on this story and did not hear back in time for publication.)
According to TikTok, dating Caleb looks something like this: Even before your first date, text conversations with Caleb are a nearly continuous stream of witty back-and-forth messages and sweet compliments. He sends over a playlist titled “furniture boy,” and you find it self-deprecating in the most charming way. It’s full of songs from The Doors, The Smiths, and Morrissey (which another TikToker, Addison Rose, nicknamed “male manipulator music,” even before the situation unraveled — props to your foresight, Addison!). He texts you after your first date to ask when you can see each other again, and you go to the Met together. Later that night, he sends you a candid picture he took of you admiring the art, completely unprompted. After three dates, he randomly mentions that he already deleted his dating app, implying a certain degree of commitment and exclusivity. A few weeks in, you’re still texting every day, and he says he can’t see his life without you in it.
But that’s only the first six weeks. Then come the more sporadic messages, the days when he ignores you, the times when he says he needs space. At this point, you trust him. This is the same guy that made a playlist just for you, right? Perhaps not.
When Kellie, a TikToker who chronicled her dating experiences with Caleb, received “furniture boy,” she noticed one major red flag right away: his Spotify profile had several versions of the same playlist, just with different names. (Notably, she called him “furniture boy” in their text messages — so were all the other playlist titles also inside jokes with other people?) Still, she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. “I had thought that’s what he used as an icebreaker with women, so I let it go,” she says. He also deleted (or hid) the other playlists after she mentioned it — a seemingly good sign. “In the moment, I did not recognize a lot of things he said or did as red flags because I was excited to be dating who I thought was a normal man.”
But in hindsight, she might have been too generous in her assessment. In reality, he was doing and saying the same things to several women at once. After Kate Glavan, a popular TikToker, shared that she was excited about dating someone new, the comments section put two and two together, lighting up with one question: Is it West Elm Caleb? Spoiler alert: it was! Glavan had only been on two dates with him at this point, but the DMs she got made it clear that their second date would be their last. (BTW, when she was filming that TikTok, talking about getting ready for her date, Caleb was actually still with Kellie — in case you thought this couldn’t get any worse.)
She tells Elite Daily, “When I discovered he was doing the same thing to other women, I immediately felt disgusted and freaked out. I started to get a plethora of comments on TikTok and DMs on Instagram about how he texted us the same thing, made us the same playlist, planned the same dates, etc.”
Kate considers herself “lucky” that she found out when she did, escaping the pseudo-relationship with minimal damage and no love-bombing. But not everyone got out unscathed. The next step in Caleb’s pattern? Ghosting. For Kellie, this happened (ironically) after they had already had a conversation about ghosting. At one point, Caleb texted her, “I’m still confident you’ll ghost me by then, but I’m holding out hope!!” When Kellie assured him that she “tell[s] people upfront” and “hate[s] ghosting culture,” he seemed relieved and joked: “I’ll ghost you soon, don’t worry.” (A moment of silence for the audacity.)
Later, when Caleb did, in fact, start ghosting her, she was upfront in confronting him — just as she promised him she would be. “So I don’t know if this is a new ghosting technique,” she sent him after he started being noticeably distant, “But it would be nice if you could communicate with me.” He wrote back, “It’s not, it’s not. I apologize. I’m just going through some stuff and getting my headspace together.” (He fully ghosted her on Jan. 18.)
Of course, after these stories went viral, he did reach out to some of his former flames to apologize for ghosting. In one screenshot posted to TikTok, his message reads, “Hey, I just wanted to text you to apologize for ghosting you the way I did. I’m in a place right now where I don’t know what I want out of life. I think I just wanted to feel validation by matching with people despite not being in a headspace to like them back. I’m sorry for ghosting you the way I did and however it may have affected you.” Several women commented confirming he sent them the same apology. Apparently, Caleb is a huge fan of copy and paste.
For Caleb, accountability also looks like losing — at least, temporarily — his main source of dates. According to the same TikToker who received this apology message, Caleb deleted his Hinge profile. (Hinge declined to confirm or deny this due to “data and user privacy reasons.”) Bumble confirmed to Elite Daily that he was no longer a user on their app.
What Is Love-Bombing?
Clearly, West Elm Caleb is not New York City’s favorite dater right now — and for good reason. He’s the epitome of a love bomber, according to most of the women who have dated him. “Love-bombing is emotional manipulation of a vulnerable person,” LeslieBeth Wish, a nationally honored psychotherapist in the relationships field and bestselling author of Training Your Love Intuition, says.
But it happens in a way that feels really good — temporarily, at least. “Love bombers pay too much attention to you. They talk about your future together. They tell you how happy you make them feel. They tell you that they’ve never had such great conversations, they want to know all kinds of things about you,” she explains. “And pretty soon, you're hooked” — and the love bomber knows your exact vulnerabilities.
In the case of West Elm Caleb, that particular brand of manipulation looked something like this: According to Kellie, before she and Caleb ever met in person, he texted her, “Might be a bit ahead of myself, but I have a really good feeling about you. I’m really excited.”
Kate Pearce, who also matched with Caleb and detailed her experiences on TikTok, says she was love-bombed, too. “I felt completely love-bombed. He was so attentive and nice in his initial texts, which made it more upsetting when he ghosted... He knows exactly how to make a girl interested,” she explains. (According to Kate, he also sent her an unsolicited nude picture before ever meeting her and ghosted her the next day. He apologized a month later before sending another explicit photo via Snapchat. They never met in person. She detailed the rest of her West Elm Caleb story on her podcast, KP & The City, if you want to be horrified by more.)
Is Love-Bombing Always Toxic?
OK, so love-bombing — especially in this particular story — sounds completely horrible, but is the intent always bad? We can’t read Caleb’s mind. But according to Meredith Prescott, LCSW and couples therapist, “There’s always an intention behind the way they’re behaving, and it’s always manipulative. They know that they’re being manipulative and that they have an agenda.”
Still, that doesn’t mean their manipulative tactics are aimed at hurting you, per se. She continues, “But I think a lot of times, they’re trying to get their needs met that they didn’t get in early childhood. They might not know or have the insight about how to have a healthy relationship without manipulation and control.”
In other words, they know what they’re doing, and they know how to manipulate a situation (and a person) to make sure that the ball is always in their court. But it’s not really about hurting you — it’s way more tied to feeding their own ego. Your feelings are an unfortunate casualty in that quest.
Of course, Caleb’s intentions may be totally different. As journalist Taylor Lorenz points out in her own TikTok, “He might be a horrible piece of sh*t, but it’s this weird, like, pathologizing of him, diagnosing him with personality disorders by people who don’t even know him... it all just feels very off to me.” She makes a fair point — but so do those who disagree with her.
One commenter responded, “Women warning women about toxic men who manipulate them... how dare they speak from personal experience and call him out.” Another commenter pointed out, “[There’s] a pretty marked pattern across several women to not believe.”
The truth is, since Caleb has not publicly commented on the situation yet, we’re still only hearing one side of a subjective story. In a screenshot shared by Kate Glavan from their conversation on Jan. 17, Caleb said that he was “really upset” by the rumors. In his words:
[A]pparently, a girl with a huge TiKTok following made a video about how a tall boy named Caleb took her on a date and never talked to her again. Then, it seems that in her comment section, a few girls that I had matched with in the past [were] like, ‘Is this West Elm Caleb?’... So then she made a separate video to say that it wasn’t ‘West Elm Caleb,’ but that she taked to those girls and wanted to warn everyone about me because I guess I ghosted them.
Again, that doesn’t give us an awful lot of insight into his thinking — especially considering his phrasing implies that he doesn’t exactly remember the situation and can only “guess” that he ghosted them. This isn’t to downplay Caleb’s perspective, but the rub is that so many women are sharing similar reports of manipulation, screenshots included, and no guesswork involved.
What Are The Signs Of Love-Bombing?
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is” is not the most romantic phrase in the world, but it describes love-bombing to a T. According to Prescott, the tell-tale sign of love-bombing is when a relationship “feels too good to be true” — especially early on.
But what exactly can you identify as a red flag? Prescott says, “Typically, love bombers are very complimentary (almost excessively), and they also promote a lot of communication.” So texting all the time and sending sweet but unprompted compliments are both things to watch out for.
In Caleb’s case, that might look like a personalized (but not really) Spotify playlist or sending you a candid photo he took of you at the Met (like he did for Kellie). But for someone else, it could be an elaborate gift early on or an expensive dinner reservation for no reason.
With these situations, trusting your gut is key. If things start to feel scripted or a little too smooth, that’s also a sign to take a step back. “They use these lines that are what you want to hear and also pretty grand to keep you hooked and wanting more,” she adds.
So How Can You Protect Yourself?
Love bombers tend to go after vulnerable partners, so keep in mind your own attachment style and dating patterns when entering the dating pool. “Take your emotional temperature,” Wish suggests. If your emotions feel exaggerated when you’re with this person — “if you're feeling over-excited and drop everything when they call” or “you feel very low when they’re late in reaching out” — it may be time to re-evaluate your connection.
When it comes to self-preservation, self-awareness is key. Prescott suggests, “Try to be more aware and willing to slow down a little bit. When you’re going too quickly, based on emotions, you miss things. But if you slow down, you might be able to pick up on things early on.”
The good news? It seems like that’s the exact lesson Caleb taught his sea of exes. “I think in the future I will definitely be more cognizant of how enthralled I am becoming in a relationship in a short amount of time,” Kellie explains. “It’s very easy to recognize when someone is an a**hole to you, but love-bombing is easy to get caught up in. I am definitely taking a brief dating break, especially from dating apps right now. I also think I will be avoiding furniture designers for the time being — ha!”
And try not to take the ghosting to heart. “Ghosting is very typical in these love-bombing scenarios,” Wish explains. “Love bombers like moving targets all the time.”
Ultimately, love-bombing is a toxic cycle that has nothing to do with you — even when you’re in the thick of it, 20 songs deep in the “furniture boy” playlist, wondering why there are so many songs by The Smiths. It’s really not you. It’s them.
LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist
Meredith Prescott, LCSW and couples therapist