The women of New York City have come for West Elm Caleb.
If you’re wise or fortunate enough to stay far away from TikTok, I’ll spare you the deep dive. The SparkNotes: After a TikTok user posted about being ghosted by a man named Caleb, her video was flooded with replies asking: “Is this West Elm Caleb”?
Turns out, a guy named Caleb who works at West Elm allegedly ghosted several women and dated multiple women at once, among other things, leading his former dates to bond on social media over their shared disgust. Of course, the guy they describe sounds like a jerk who doesn’t know how real men treat women, but even Buzzfeed came to his defense against the full-scale doxxing that took place.
If something is trending on TikTok it’s usually reliable proof that the topic isn’t worth your time, and for trends about people’s bad date stories, that rule almost universally applies. But in this case, the woes of West Elm Caleb and the story’s echoes of the broader #MeToo movement teach us something about how #MeToo can help the dating world and how it can’t.
I’m with Buzzfeed – a sentence I never thought I’d write – on the idea that we should be wary of letting the cancel culture craze drag a private individual’s reputation through the mud, especially based on hearsay or the subjective perspectives of social media snapshots. Does West Elm Caleb sound like a guy you shouldn’t let your daughter date? Duh. But doxxing dates-gone-wrong is hardly going to fix dating culture (I’m not talking about reporting harassment or other criminal behavior, here).
The saga of West Elm Caleb and the Women of New York, as Buzzfeed pointed out, isn’t that uncommon – and therein lies the problem. The problem isn’t just Caleb, and therefore the solution isn’t just doxxing/eliminating guys like Caleb. The problem is the system itself.
In some ways, the #MeToo movement didn’t go far enough. It called out the results but, if it recognized a cause at all, targeted the wrong one.
Old-fashioned ideas like commitment, monogamous and lifelong marriages, or concepts of strong, loving men who know how to decisively lead and capably provide for women aren’t what creates villains like West Elm Caleb. Men who treat women the way Caleb is accused of doing are the exact opposite of those ideals.
“I’m sorry but, like…we’re all grown-ups here, right?” Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos wrote in Caleb’s defense. “If you’re shocked by the idea of a young single person in NYC having sex with more than one person they’re casually dating, there’s a whole TV show from the 2000s I’d love you to check out.”
Notopoulos is describing hookup culture, but completely missing the cause-and-effect connection. Men like Caleb are absolutely responsible for their actions, but such actions are also no surprise in a dating environment where short-term pleasure and self-serving desires reign supreme.
Caleb (again, allegedly) put his own flaky, have-it-all wants ahead of commitment, thoughtfulness, honesty, or stability towards the girls he dated. It’s no surprise Caleb’s former dates are miserable! That’s no way to treat a woman! But the fact that he’s getting called out for behavior that’s par for the course in hookup culture can’t help but indict the whole darn thing.
And that’s what #MeToo could do, if we let it.
Because the ugliness isn’t limited to predators like Harvey Weinstein. While not on the same scale, sin and selfishness (and the abuses to which they often lead) are inherent in a dating culture that idolizes self-indulgence and shirks from the sacrifices of commitment.
It’s also a culture that breeds loneliness, as “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell has admitted. “When I was in my 30s and 40s, I didn’t think about it,” she recalled. “Then when I got divorced and I was in my 50s, I started to see the impact of not having children and of truly being alone.”
West Elm Calebs are products of a world that tells them to date the way they do. Most Americans aren’t happy with the dating scheme – three in four daters told Pew researchers that they’ve found it very or somewhat difficult to find someone to date in the past year, and a full 50 percent of singles said they weren’t even looking.
But too many people discontent with dating in America are either trying to win the game with the same broken strategy, or giving up on playing altogether. Healthy romantic relationships (and their ultimate fulfillment, marriage) are built on sacrifice, commitment, and the active, selfless decision to devote yourself to someone else. You won’t find that from West Elm Caleb, nor in the empty promises of hookup culture itself.