“The Ick,” as described by Instagram and TikTok, is when attraction to a partner (current or potential) is suddenly flipped to a feeling of repulsion or disgust. For example, when your partner is rude to service staff, uses a baby voice to talk to animals, or is obsessed with astrological signs.
Typically, you’re unaware of “The Ick” until it happens. But sometimes you know about “The Ick” beforehand but aren’t repulsed by it until you witness them doing it. For instance, he tells you he likes to talk to dogs in a baby voice. You may think that’s strange, but then you think, ” Ah, to each their own.
But then, one day, you go to the park, see him pick up a puppy, and start talking to it like a baby. “Awwww, look at da teeny-tiny puppy wuppy.” Ick!
The popular 90s and early 2000s show Ally McBeal was the first to coin the term “The Ick.” Thanks to social media, the term has resurfaced.
The ick factor differs from doubting whether you want to be with somebody. It’s much more repulsive because it’s a strong gut reaction to the person’s mannerisms or actions.
It could be subtle things that irritate you, like how they tell a joke or continuously laugh at their own jokes, no matter how cringe they are. It could be how they wear their hair or even how they smell. There are many reasons why the ick happens, but essentially, it’s a deep feeling that this person is not who you want to be with.
Why Do You Catch ‘The Ick” in Your Relationship
You may genuinely like the person you’re dating, so it can be a little confusing when this feeling seemingly pops out of nowhere.
However, when you underappreciate the amount of subconscious communication that occurs in a relationship, it may seem like ‘the ick’ comes on suddenly. Yet, it has been festering for some time, eventually surfacing as a gut reaction.
When you feel the ick, take some time to consider whether you can live with that behavior in the long run. But if you cringe every time they touch you, that’s not something you can deal with long-term, so you should probably reconsider the relationship.
But ultimately, you should pay attention to the signs. The ick is an unconscious gut reaction. So if you have these feelings, it’s usually best to listen to them.
Diane, 32, Financial Analyst, New York City
“I went out with David, and for our first date, he took me to the park. We hit it off so well that we made plans to go out to dinner that night. Again, the conversation flowed perfectly. The server came and took our order. We even found it amusing that we liked the same foods. At this point, I’m thinking he’s the one. Then the waiter came with our food, and I shockingly watched David shovel food into his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in a week. Then he began telling a story with his mouth full, and I watched in horror as tiny pieces of food escaped his mouth and landed on the tablecloth, his plate, the front of his shirt, and everywhere else.
Then it happened. A disgusting, saliva-filled, tiny piece of steak shot out of his mouth and landed on my plate. He didn’t even flinch, but I sure did! That was “The Ick” moment, and after that, I never talked to him again.”
Catching “The Ick”: How to Tell
Trust us: if you have “the ick,” you’ll definitely know! You may make excuses for why you should continue seeing the person. You tell yourself, “But they’re so sweet!” when your gut shouts, “Nope, not feeling it!”
It may happen when you realize someone likes you, you see that they have great qualities, and you really want to be in a relationship, but it feels like you’re trying to force chemistry that isn’t there.
Crystal, 22, Student, Georgia
“I was in my first year at college, and I didn’t know anyone. It was really lonely, and I tried to make friends, but it wasn’t easy. I ended up hanging out with this funny guy from my Calc I class. He was cool, and we liked the same things. Then he told me he liked me, but I didn’t have the same feelings. I didn’t find him attractive at all. He asked me out, and I went since I had nothing better to do. It was fun, but I found myself pulling away every time he tried to touch me. I kept telling myself that he had all the qualities I looked for in a guy (except looks), so I should give him a try, right? We went on two more dates, but still nothing. “Possibly” turned into a definite “no” when I realized I’d rather be alone than touch him.”
If you got “the ick,” you will feel repulsed and irritated, and you won’t want to go near him or might even want to leave the room they’re in. You might feel ashamed or embarrassed by them and don’t want any physical contact with them whatsoever.
Any feelings of wanting to be away from a person indicate that something’s off because, in a relationship, you should enjoy hanging out.
How Long until You Catch “The Ick”?
Sometimes, ‘the ick’ can be instant. For example, you go on a few dates with a guy making all the right moves, but something isn’t right. You can’t shake the desire to back away when he approaches you.
It can also occur later in the dating stages when he does something you witness for the first time but immediately turns you off.
Because you don’t know much about the other person yet, the ick primarily occurs early (typically in the first few months) in a relationship as you get to know someone. During this time, you begin recognizing the repeated behaviors that give you this blah feeling in your gut.
However, it’s important to note that if doubts start happening later in the relationship, it’s probably not ‘the ick’ and may just be a sign you’re drifting apart.
Lisa, 44, Data Entry Coordinator, Nevada
“Years ago, when I was younger, I met a guy on a dating app. He was attractive, had a great sense of humor, and was an all-around nice guy. I was so excited about our upcoming first date. A week or so leading up to the date, he would leave small gifts for me. They were small things, but they started becoming a little too much because we hadn’t even gone out yet.
I could feel ‘the ick’ creeping up in my throat.
The first date was OK, and we kept in contact, but my feelings inexplicably changed. The ick had quieted somewhat, and I still thought he was nice, but there were no fireworks. We went out on a couple more dates, and then one night, I came home to my apartment, which had a sturdy security gate, and found my porch covered with geraniums, a flower I once mentioned I liked. The ick returned, but I didn’t think twice this time and immediately called it off.”
Is It Possible to Get Rid of “The Ick”?
You may attempt to rationalize your feelings and convince yourself that you like this person despite the cringe. However, “the ick” is difficult to get rid of. It also depends on the degree of the ick. The levels range from a teenie ick to an omigod-don’t-ever-call-me-again! ick.
For example, according to social media, watching a guy chase down a ping pong ball is a teenie ick, and something you can laugh off.
A bigger ick would be someone who gets out of the shower, and their armpits still smell. But, of course, these examples are literally taken from social media, so at least one person feels this way and judging by the comments, others agree.
If the ick is a behavior you can accept, then by all means, give it a go. But typically, the behavior isn’t something they can change (ex., their mannerisms). Understanding this sooner rather than later is better so you don’t waste your time or theirs. Plus, you’ll be able to find a better match this way.
Ultimately, it comes down to trusting your instincts and accepting that they’re not the right person for you. There are plenty of perfect matches for you, so you shouldn’t have to force yourself to be interested in someone. You can know that you want to be in a relationship and like the qualities a person offers, but don’t feel like you have to feel a certain way about them. If it’s not there, it’s not there.
In the example above with Diane at the restaurant, David, her date, not only has a bad habit of chewing with his mouth open, but he also talks with his mouth full, causing food to fly everywhere. David has specific mannerisms, and for Diane, this was a dealbreaker.
Another person may have politely confronted David. Maybe he has a bad habit of talking with his mouth full and was working on “fixing” the issue but forgot on his date with Diane.
The question is, is “the ick” something you’d be willing to overlook? Even if David attempts to rectify his oral issues, it will likely happen again. Are you prepared to deal with that in the long run? Only you know the answer.
4 Surefire Signs You Have “The Ick”
1. The Thought of Being Sexual (Or Physical) With Them Makes You Sick
This is never a good sign. When we refer to physical, we mean everything from sex to them just trying to hold your hand. Even their being near you makes you queasy, but not in the good butterflies way.
It’s vital to try and determine where these feelings come from because there may be another underlying issue you need to address.
Maybe you’ve had unpleasant experiences in the past that make you afraid to move the relationship forward. Or, perhaps the sexual chemistry is no longer there. Regardless of why you feel this way, it would be best to seek professional help.
2. You Start to Avoid Them
There’s a difference between needing some free time to yourself every once in a while, to actively avoiding your partner. If you’re beginning to make excuses as to why you can’t see them, or you count down the seconds until you can leave their company, you may need to re-evaluate your relationship.
You can’t avoid them forever, so in this case, the best thing you can do is be honest and upfront. Ghosting shouldn’t be an option, so try the mature approach and deal with the situation head-on.
3. You’re Eyeing Other Options
Keeping your options open is the most telling sign of all. You know you have the ick when your “innocent” glance moves more toward the “they’re cute” sentiment. Then it’s the inquiries of whether or not they’re single that let you know that you may have the ick with your current partner.
Finally, it may be time to move on when your thoughts shift from admiration to actively pursuing someone else. A wandering eye isn’t good for any relationship, so don’t be that person who cheats on your significant other. Instead, break it off first and then “hit the bricks.”
Unfortunately, even if they’ve been doing all the right things, you may still get the ick vibe about your partner. However, this is the perfect time to reconsider what you’re searching for in a relationship. Maybe you’re not looking for anything new but want to slow things down and get to know them better. Evaluate the situation before deciding.
4. Everything They Do Irritates You
It’s not only everything they do, but it’s also everything about them, including how they dress, how they laugh, everything! If you constantly think, “If I have to see those yoga pants one more time, I’ll scream!” you may feel a bit of the ick.
Basically, you don’t like anything about them and no longer enjoy being in their company. So if you’re one chew away from reaching inside their mouth and yanking out the gum, it’s time to go.
When it comes to “The Ick,” daters should be honest about why they feel the way they do. Sometimes, it only takes an open conversation to understand if their partner is willing to try and change their behavior. If not, you’ll need to decide whether it’s a dealbreaker or something you can live with. Good luck!