The unexpected upside of getting ‘the ick’

The ick is now an undisputed part of not only our modern lexicon, but our daily dating life. You’ll have a hard time finding someone who hasn’t been there. You’re with someone, everything’s going well, then out of nowhere they do something that might seem totally crazy on the surface, but from that point on – everything they do absolutely repels you. The ick is normally inconspicuous. There are logical, justifiable deal-breakers like poor personal hygiene or alarming behavior and offensive comments. And then there’s icks to see someone’s umbrella folded over, or them tying that little bow in their pajama bottoms. Harmless daily promotions that can become deal breakers.

Once the ick is triggered, it’s notoriously hard to come back from it. In a poll carried out of sex toy brand Lovehoney, 43 percent of women surveyed said they ended their relationship because of ick, and 60 percent said there was no going back. A bleak prospect, for sure. The ick is something that everyone who actively goes out is afraid of; whether it’s in the form of spontaneously getting angry for someone we really like – or worse – care for you the ick. Although the modern mythology surrounding the Ick has come a long way since Olivia Attwood first discussed it on ITV’s reality dating show island of love in 2017. The ick emerged in the spring of 2020 in the form of a TikTok trend now referred to as IckTok. Gen Z started sharing their own icks or ick-inducing situations. The overarching goal of these conversations is to make other people feel disgusted when they imagine it this specific individual action this certain thing. The ick was no longer something to be afraid of – it became a tool. People used it for the common good.


“Beige flags” is the TikTok dating trend that could ruin your love life

The number of people sharing their icks on TikTok has only continued to grow (and continues to grow). At the time of writing, the hashtag was #theick has 220.9 million views on the app. The new trend eventually recaptured the ick’s narrative, transforming it from something to be feared into something to be embraced; in certain cases even encouraged. Not only did it turn into a positive force, helping people overcome their breakups and heartbreak, and sparking the ick for someone they were with who they were knew poisonous, it also became a unifying force. The trend paved the way for people to send their icks to their friends in their group chats and to find solidarity in the things that disgust them. In a poll carried out from dating app Badoo, 35 percent of people said they were influenced by icks they saw online; The ick became a real-time tool.

I started imagining him performing those icks that people were sharing on social media: doing the splits at random, sitting on a bar stool, and swinging his legs in a rage when the restaurant sold out, which is what he wanted.

The rise of this TikTok trend coincided with a “situation” of mine. After the end of a long-term relationship, I went looking for someone exciting and ended up getting involved with a man I knew was bad news. A textbook situation, he was much older, used a lot of drugs, I couldn’t stay away from him but I knew I had to before I got too deep into him. I started imagining him performing those icks that people were sharing on social media: doing the splits at random, sitting on a bar stool, and swinging his legs in a rage when the restaurant sold out, which is what he wanted. Miraculously it worked. The thought of him was beginning to lift me dry.

When we go to get the ick for someone we’re dating, it’s usually early doors, with a quarter of people reporting having the ick within the first month of dating, corresponding a YouGov poll. With that, there is a widespread feeling that true love defies ick. When you’re in love, things that would otherwise make you feel disgusted are often more likeable (or at least bearable). That does not mean that this is not the case after the breakup. 25-year-old Amy experienced this first-hand with the last man she dated. When they first added each other on social media, his photos hadn’t gone unnoticed. “They were just embarrassing,” she explains. “On one he had the thumbs up for no apparent reason, on another he and his friends just stood very awkwardly together.” At the time of the date, Amy liked him enough to be able to laugh about it, but after the relationship ended, they became useful : “Every time I felt sad about the situation, I just went to his Instagram. It’s honestly what got me over him.” Having a list of things a partner did during a relationship that kept you from helping you through the breakup has always been a common coping mechanism – the ick evolved into an advancement that could give people a name.


Relationship troubles, red flags, and the blurry lines that separate them

There is undeniably a deeper undercurrent to the ick. If true love defies the ick, then vicariously it must mean that when the ick strikes, it is the manifestation of something that is already brewing – whether we are aware of it or not. The ick is a physical manifestation of your subconscious, effectively speaking that’s not it, that’s not the person. It can be difficult to come to terms with when the reason for the ecstasy is seemingly silly. While it may not have been them who spoke as if they were an influencer on their Instagram stories, that’s necessarily why you don’t want to be with them, but it’s exactly what sparked the feeling. The upside here, though, is that while the reason for the ick might be harmless, it’s something you can put a label on as to why you can’t date this person anymore.

The ick is something that’s always been there, we just didn’t have the words to describe it.

The ick can also save us a lot of time by simply specifying little flags for general incompatibility. That’s how it was with twenty-six-year-old Matilda. “As a person, I don’t get the disgust and fire someone right away, but I do have the disgust and that was a precursor to what was to come,” she explains. Matilda found this to be true when she started dating a guy in the summer of 2021. They dated for a few more months, but the ick was gushed from the get-go: “Considering this was the height of summer, he was wearing a t-shirt, but then he pulled on a snood to go with this very casual outfit — to the Grilling. Despite his fashion choices causing an ick to rumble, Matilda kept seeing if it was the exception to the rule, though the ick just kept building: “He had a onewheel and he would just ride it overall.” (A Onewheel is an electric skateboard with a pretty big wheel in the middle.) She recalls, “We were at a restaurant and there was just this fat wheel that he would carry with him everywhere. Ultimately, I would’ve just known that he wasn’t the one when I saw that.” If Matilda had had strong feelings for this man, would that have sparked such a violent reaction? Or would she have found it charming or seen as a funny quirk, who paid little attention to her?

The ick is something that’s always been there, we just didn’t have the words to describe it. Before it was mainstream, something we could label and try to justify, there are countless people who would have ended their relationships because of the as yet unnamed ick. Consciousness and awareness of the ick is something that will never leave us. It’s out there, we recorded all the conversations and content online. The general awareness of the ick has irrevocably changed the course of our modern dating life. If it wasn’t already a minefield, the fear of getting or giving the ick no doubt makes the already complex dating scene even more difficult to navigate.

However, if the ick isn’t something we can ever avoid, all we can do is harness the power of it. In the above survey conducted by Badoo, 75 percent of people pick up their own icks after seeing them through ick-related content. If ick content online triggers something for you, see if it’s something you can work past with someone you’re dating, something to get over an ex with, or just a deal-breaker . If it hadn’t been so labeled in recent years, there could still have been countless relationships today in which someone was easily repelled as their partner held their fork. The ick is here to stay – so we might as well start embracing it. The unexpected upside of getting ‘the ick’

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