By now you’ve likely heard the tale of West Elm Caleb. A 25-year-old, 6’4” designer for the high-end furniture company who got outed by TikTok for ghosting girls around New York City. Basically, he was guilty of typical fuckboi behavior: matching with women on dating apps, showering them with compliments and Spotify playlists, then disappearing on them, never to be heard again (while, allegedly, sending one unsolicited dick pic in the process). Until the video-sharing app connected the ghostees — women who discovered they had all been dating the same man after sharing their similar experiences on TikTok in late January of this year.
What started as a funny coincidence, reminiscent of the plot of the 2006 film John Tucker Must Die, quickly escalated into a TikTok harassment campaign where internet users and even some media outlets doxxed West Elm Caleb and tried to get him fired from his job. It was yet another lesson in how we need to leave random strangers that accidentally go viral alone, but the mania viral event highlighted another problem persistent on the internet right now.
It’s known as pathologizing, and it has reached new heights on TikTok, where nearly every show of bad or unlikeable behavior, specifically when it comes to dating and relationships, is classified as abuse. In the case of West Elm Caleb, TikTok users branded him a “narcissist” and a “pathological liar,” and accused him of “gaslighting” women into thinking that he liked them. One comment even equated ghosting with emotional abuse. It’s why some people tried to get him fired, they legitimately believed he was an abuser.
“Love bombing” is another psychology buzzword being tossed around at the moment. A term that originated with cult leaders during the ‘70s has now catapulted into the mainstream thanks to West Elm Caleb and Kanye West (as you might be able to gauge from all the “What is love bombing?” articles written in the last few weeks). What gaslighting was to 2016, love bombing is to 2022.
To save you that Google search, Dr. Amelia Kelley, co-author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship, explains that love bombing is any effort to influence another person with demonstrations of romantic gestures, attention and affection. The act is almost always present at the beginning of a relationship …….