As a relationship therapist, the conversation around West Elm Caleb that’s been unfolding this week is fascinating. This all started when @meemshou posted a TikTok about being ghosted by a Caleb. This started to trend when other women were sharing experiences of being pursued, then ghosted, by another Caleb, who as you may have guessed, works for West Elm.
What is love bombing?
Before going further, lets define love bombing. By definition, love bombing, is when a person in the early stages of dating showers you with attention, compliments and gifts. This is a strategy employed by people who are emotionally abusive to ultimately control another person.
A person who is love bombing does this so when they ultimately begin to abuse you whether it’s emotionally, verbally, physically, and/or sexually, you feel loyal and committed to them. Love bombing is the ultimate gaslighting tactic. Gaslighting, as you may know, is when another person manipulates reality leaving you confused and unable to trust yourself.
When a person has showered you with so much “love” and attention but then later is abusive, the victim of this abuse believes that the “real person” was the loving one so they need to stay committed to this person until they return to their “true” loving self.
Love bombing and emotional abuse
Love bombing is a standard tactic for abusive partners with narcissistic qualities. When a person wants to hold onto another person for months, years, or decades while being cruel and abusive, it helps if the other partner has an idealized version of the abuser that seems like the “true” them.
Beginning a relationship with love bombing creates a fantasy of the relationship which compels the victim of this abuse to stay. They are hoping that the relationship can return to the loving beginning even when the facts highlight that this person is controlling, cruel, abusive or intimidating.
In one of my emotionally abusive relationships, I remember thinking about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde all the time. I believed the “true” person was the romantic guy I initially met rather than the man who was ghosting me, cheating on me, and telling me I accept less than crumbs. This highlights then next stage of love bombing which is devaluation.
The higher someone puts you on a pedestal, the more they can knock you down when they feel like it.
What is not love bombing when dating
Love bombing is the initial stage of an abusive relationship. To highlight this, how many true crime shows have you watched in which a woman was killed by her boyfriend or husband in which they describe their relationship as having been a “whirl wind romance” where he was the “perfect man”?!
If a person ghosts you but then returns with huge promises of commitment and improvement with no follow-through, this is an emotionally abusive relationship. Healthy people take genuine accountability which means if they hurt you, they do the work to change this pattern.
On the other hand, if the person who was showering you with attention doesn’t return to you, this person was immature rather than a narcissistic abuser.
Attention seeking versus love bombing
When dating, and on dating apps, some of the potential dates you will meet are absolutely emotional abusers. Therefore it’s important to be aware of their tendency to love bomb early on to guard yourself.
At the same time, not everyone who showers you with texts and compliments early on is love bombing. If they don’t have any intention of having a relationship with you, they are not trying to trap you into an abusive relationship.
Instead their motivation for laying it on thick may be less insidious and more common. Some people will shower you with attention simply because they are lonely or want validation. They may be engaging with you intensely because they just want to feel good about themselves.
Is this manipulative? Yes. But at the same time, who amongst us hasn’t turned to a dating app at one point or another to validate our own attractiveness or desirability? We wouldn’t have the term “thirst trap” if it was not a common, human behavior to seek validation from others. I’m not saying it’s emotionally healthy but it’s common.
Finally, it is important to be honest with yourself when someone is showering you with attention. Ask yourself if you truly like this other person or, if in reality, you just like the the high of feeling so special and desirable.
Who can you trust when dating?
This trend around West Elm Caleb has led to a greater conversation around how painful dating can be. The reality is that dating, especially the early stages is an assessment phase. The assessment allows us to identify if the other person is a solid long-term match for us. Of course, this includes identifying how trustworthy this person is as well.
Not every person we match with is looking for a genuine, committed relationship. At the same time, not everyone is looking just to hookup. The reality is that when you meet someone it is too soon to tell if you can trust their intentions, words, or actions. It takes time to decide if someone is trustworthy. To trust someone means you believe they have your best interest in mind.
Related: Hate dating but want a relationship?
Dating, let alone childhood trauma, can create issues around trust. A common default reaction to these issues around trust is to fall into all-or-nothing thinking. Commonly, people who struggle with trust will either completely withhold trust or, alternatively, will trust others prematurely.
Not believing every word they say (or none of them)
To think you can’t trust people entirely or to give your trust away to every person who DMs you is a sign of all-or-nothing thinking. This type of thinking is a “thinking mistake” identified by the therapy model, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).
CBT is therapy model proven effective at reducing anxiety amongst other issues. One common strategy to reduce anxiety is to identify your “thinking mistakes” which create problems for you. I outline the common thinking mistakes which negatively impact our relationships, including our dating life, in my book, The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices to Develop and Maintain Your Independence.
When it comes to this thinking mistake though, the healthy alternative is to always find the middle ground. You can’t automatically trust someone when you are dating. At the same time, you must keep your mind and eyes open. It is true people show you who they are but it takes time.
Learning to trust yourself
When you’re dating someone new, you can’t trust them fully yet. At the same time, you can cultivate skills to learn how to always trust yourself. This means being committed to your best interest rather than the fantasy of someone.
When you meet someone, stay mindful as to how you truly feel. Deep down, we often have a sense when something feels “off.” Even if on the surface, your new love interest seems like a true find, if something feels not right about what they are saying or doing listen to yourself.
It can be scary to not have “proof” as to why we don’t want to continue seeing someone but honoring your genuine feelings and insights is the only way you cultivate self-trust. Learning how to trust yourself clears away so much unnecessary angst when dating because you stop giving other people endless chances.
To learn how to trust yourself, you must learn how to listen to yourself and identify your needs and limits.
Learning how to protect yourself
I’ve heard people on TikTok saying there needs to be an option to rate men on dating apps. I understand that desire. At the same time, each person is responsible to protect themselves with their own boundaries. It’s only when you develop and honor your limits that you can fully trust yourself by the way.
To not get too attached early on, find your personal limits which make you feel safe. For example, maybe you believe it’s best to not go on more than 1 date a week with someone you just met for a month to take your time. Or maybe you need to not have sex unless you are committed.
Related: Is casual sex healthy?
Personally, I had the rule to never have an ongoing text conversation with someone before I met them. This rule came from my understanding that humans evolved to assess if someone will be a good match for us through smell and taste (kissing). I wanted to wait to meet someone to not waste my energy on someone who ultimately, once I met them in the flesh may not be truly attractive to me.
Dating effectively is a process
I broke this personal rule right before I met my now-husband. The last guy I ever went on date (before my husband) with was out of town for work so I messaged him for a couple weeks before meeting. I knew this had created a false intimacy but in my heart, I was so hopeful. (I know this sounds like HIMYF)
We went on one date and then he went silent. I felt so rejected when he stopped texting me after meeting that I contemplated deleting my Hinge account. Part of the reason I was so hurt is because I didn’t listen to myself.
Luckily, self-trust and self-commitment are a process. I reminded myself when I felt hurt that rejection is a part of dating. I encouraged myself to stay committed to finding my person. I’m so glad I listened to myself because the man who would become my husband messaged me a couple of days later.
West Elm Caleb highlights dating can be painful. Not every guy is trustworthy. At the same time, there are healthy men out there. Learning how to identify true red-flags while staying committed to trusting yourself will help reduce the pain of dating.
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
She is currently working on her book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram.
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