From using the wrong emojis to wearing the wrong jeans, the dreaded ick can be triggered by pretty much anything. Should we move past it?
Picture this. You’ve been on a few dates with someone who makes you laugh, is emotionally intelligent, and is good in bed. Your friends all agreed “they look nice” when you sent a screenshot of their Hinge profile to your group chat. You’re texting this person, planning your next date and daydreaming about your potential future together, when they suffix one of their messages with the crying laughing face emoji.
Your heart sinks. The fantasies of sharing bags of Lays while exploring sunny European countries and retiring to a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales together are suddenly shattered. Everything you thought you knew about them feels like a lie. You feel viscerally repulsed. You’ve got the ick.
The ick is a modern dating term that refers to a sudden feeling of revulsion towards someone you’re dating. The phrase’s popularity quickly snowballed after Olivia Atwood used it in the 2017 series of Love Island, using the term to explain the breakdown of her burgeoning relationship with Sam Gowland. “When you’ve seen a boy, and got the ick, it doesn’t go,” she said. “It’s caught you, and it’s taken over your body. It’s just ick. I can’t shake it off.”
Maybe they didn’t use the wrong emoji – maybe you saw them sprint for the bus only to miss it. Maybe they said Jordan Peterson “makes some interesting points.” Maybe they wore skinny jeans. #theick on TikTok has over 115 million views, with some videos detailing incredibly niche icks: one mentions feeling grossed out at “the thought of him having a room with stuff in it”. Honestly, fair enough.
For 26-year-old Anastasia*, it was their partner’s bad teeth. “In my early 20s I went out with the loveliest guy. Then suddenly I decided that I didn’t like his teeth anymore, which was honestly the most shallow and horrible thing. But I just couldn’t do it,” they recall. “Another time I was texting this guy I’d met up with a few times, and then suddenly he sent me an upside down smiling emoji. I was like, oh, my God, I literally never want to see him again.”
It’s possible to get the ick platonically, too. 24-year-old Maddy tells Dazed that she’s often prone to getting the ick with housemates. “They’ve always started to irk me and really irritate me, and then it becomes an ick,” she recalls. “I had this housemate and she used to eat outside of my room, because she liked to eat near the balcony. Not on the balcony, but near the balcony. And that drove me fucking mad.”
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We’re living in an age where heteropessimism, toxic misandry, and ‘dump him’ feminism is rife, as is the narcissistic idea that it’s OK to ‘cut off’ anyone who doesn’t ‘serve’ you with no explanation. With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that the concept of the ick has gained traction in recent years. The culmination of living in this cultural moment is a widespread urge to run from relationships – platonic or romantic – simply because the other person doesn’t ‘tick all your boxes’. But rather than a girlboss slay, dumping someone at the first sign of trouble can actually be a sign of emotional immaturity or even self-sabotage.
Anastasia acknowledges this. “After a while, I realised this is just sounding like a me problem. How come I meet all these amazing people and I suddenly just get icked out?” they say. “After a long time in therapy I realised that I was struggling with intimacy. I was cutting things off because I’d find an excuse to not be vulnerable and deal with something that’s uncomfortable.” Maddy adds that she’s realised she gets the ick when she recognises her worst traits in other people. “When bits of yourself are reflected in other people, that can sometimes make you uncomfortable,” she says. “I think it’s often important when you start to dislike someone to look inward and be like, ‘is it because they remind me of me?’”
“After a while, I realised this is just sounding like a me problem. How come I meet all these amazing people and I suddenly just get icked out?” – Anastasia
Relationship expert and matchmaker Sarah Louise Ryan explains how the idea of the ick has enabled people like Anastasia and Maddy to ignore their own feelings for so long. “By saying ‘it’s the ick’, people are really saying it’s just ‘something that happens’ in dating that is not their responsibility,” she explains. “It removes accountability and ownership of the feeling.”
This doesn’t mean you should stay in a relationship or friendship that’s making you unhappy. If, for example, your partner’s ugly handwriting makes you cringe so much you literally want to be sick, it’s probably worth examining why you feel that way – but their crappy penmanship alone is not something worth ending a relationship over. However, if you find your partner morally repugnant, that’s arguably more of a cause for concern. As Anastasia says: “I think there’s a difference between icks and red flags.” Or, in some cases, you might realise that you haven‘t just ‘got the ick’, and you're actually just gay.
“When two people feel less aligned, connected and attracted to one another and they feel feelings of resentment, wanting to no longer be in the relationship, or thinking about dating other people, I believe it’s time to end the dating journey,” Ryan says. But if you decide to stay in a relationship despite getting the ick, how can you recover things?
Firstly, it’s important to focus on the positives. As aforementioned, #theick on TikTok is a popular hashtag, but #reverseicks has even more views – 160 million in total. Here, users share nice things to imagine your partner doing. Similarly, #greenflags has over 257 million videos which mention things like good communication skills, empathy, and trustworthiness. Communication is also essential: “The only way you can overcome this is by vocalising what it is that’s making you feel icky,” Ryan says. “The narrative one person creates can be completely different to another. While vocalising it may create a feeling of resistance or conflict, what it can also do is bring both people onto the same page.”
When Anastasia met Ahmed* several months ago, they quickly became “obsessed” with one another – until Anastasia felt themselves getting the ick. “I was like, oh my God, no, it’s happening again,” they say. Determined to break out of their usual dating patterns, they were honest with their partner and asked for some space in the relationship. “I literally felt fine again after three days,” they tell me. Although the ick returned, Anastasia persevered. They now feel as though they’ve “defeated” the ick and are in a happy, healthy, and loving relationship with Ahmed.
It’s clearly been worth working through it: “He’s so great and so attractive and beautiful and just a great person,” Anastasia says. “I love him so much.”
*Names have been changed