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Getting ‘the Ick’ while dating: how a crush can make you suddenly repulsed

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Nov 20, 2023

Getting ‘the Ick’ while dating: how a crush can make you suddenly repulsed
  • Dating someone new can be a wild, exhilarating ride. One moment, the birds are singing, the sky is blue, and you are having the best sex of your life and wondering what you must have done in a past life to meet someone as perfect as this! And then, in the blink of an eye, you are cringed out by the way they constantly pronounce the word supposedly as “supposably.” What could have happened? It sounds like you got the ick. 

    Is the ick a good or a bad thing? The ick defies all moral comparisons and descriptors. The ick is not good or bad, it simply is. 

    It can be difficult to describe if you’ve never experienced the ick before. You know that sudden feeling you get when someone you’ve been romantically involved with does something, so … what’s the word … cringe? Socks and flip-flops? Ick. Comparing you to their ex? Ick. Talks about themselves in the third person? 100 percent ick! 

    The ick is one of the latest dating phenomena that has taken the internet by storm. But how do you know you’ve gotten the ick? Is there a way to avoid giving someone else the ick? Once you get the ick while dating, can you ever get over it and return to non-ick bliss? Here is everything you need to know about the psychology behind the ick, why we get it, and what to do once you’ve realized you got it while dating.

    What is ‘the ick’?

    The ick is something that can be hard to describe unless you’ve felt it. And once you’ve got the ick, it’s notoriously difficult to un-get. The ick refers to that feeling of repulsion you might get when a new romantic partner does or says something that suddenly turns you off. 

    The ick can strike at any time. You might be sitting across from a potential lover when all of a sudden, they start smacking their lips when they eat, beatboxing, or bursting out in laughter that could also be described as the sound of a cat being run over by a car twice. Maybe you finally notice that shark tooth necklace around their neck or the fact that they were rude to the waitstaff. Perhaps you’ve finally started to notice the girl you met on HER has bad morning breath, or she sounds like she is in mild distress when she orgasms. These are just a handful of dating turn-offs that might give someone the ick.

    Sometimes, the ick can be something trivial, petty, or a gut reaction you simply can’t ignore. You might not even be able to fully explain why you find whatever is so incredibly cringe, but you can’t look at them the same way again. 

    If you’ve suddenly become repulsed by the person you are dating and don’t know what to do about it, you might have gotten the ick. You can think of icks like red flags, with a lot less valid reasoning behind them.

    The ick is a dating phenomenon that has been around since the beginning of time. Some Gen Zers may argue that ‘the ick’ originated on Love Island, while millennials swear that Ally McBeal coined the term. The truth is that the ick has been around for as long as people have been sniffing each other, kissing each other, banging each other, and then getting suddenly turned off for no good reason. 

    Sarah Ogilvie, a Oxford linguist, wants to clarify the myths behind the term’s origin.

    “The term the ick originates from ‘the ick factor,’ which originally appeared in American Newsweek magazine in 1979. In the 1980s, the expression was used interchangeably with “the yuck factor” for any generic feeling of repulsion.”

    Sarah Ogilvie

    It wasn’t until the 1990s that the ick more specifically referred to situations involving romantic feelings. 

    It’s important to know that the ick is more about the person who gets the ick rather than the person who gives it. Dating turn-offs are extremely subjective, and one person’s yuck might very well be another person’s yum. While someone using a puppy dog filter on their profile photo or wearing barefoot shoes might be a no for you, the same things could mean marriage material for someone else! The point is that getting the ick doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the person, just that they might not be right for you.

     A meme of Kim Kardishan with a disgusted look on her face with a tweet by @EmelyHernandezl reading “lurked a little too much and got the ick.”

    Source: Punkee

    How long does it usually take to get the ick?

    While the ick is truly timeless and can strike at a moment’s notice—as my partner of 2 years so lovingly reminded me the other day after I forgot to light a match after using the bathroom—it usually happens sometime within the first few months of dating someone. 

    You might get the ick on a first or second date or sometimes in the first three months of the honeymoon phase. The most common time to get the ick is during the early days when you are still getting to know the other person.

    If it’s still early days, you are in the process of learning more about each other, figuring out what your deal breakers are, and beginning to understand the full picture of how—or if—you work together. It can manifest anywhere from something as innocuous as being put off by a comment they made to something as major as recoiling from their hand every time they try to touch you. 

    This can happen.

    “The ick has a tendency to show up in the early stages of a relationship because that’s when we are most vigilant, scanning for flaws in our partner, and second-guessing criticisms of our peers.”

    Jo Nicholl

    However, you might start to develop the ick in longer-term relationships once the intimacy and romantic love between you and your partner have started to fade. Starting to get the ick for someone you’ve been dating for a while might be a sign that something else is wrong with the relationship. 

    Source: TikTok

    Why do some people suddenly give us the ick?

    The ick can be caused by anything. It knows no bounds. You might get the ick from someone’s mannerisms, sense of humor, or value system. The truth is that the reasons why you might get the ick can be as petty and distasteful as they are relatable. 

    Some things that people might give us the ick not because there is something inherently wrong with them but because the chemistry simply just isn’t there. The ick can appear in our dating life as trivial and insignificant quirks that have a larger-than-life effect on how we see people. This isn’t because those things in and of themselves are a deal breaker per se, but because the person who is doing them isn’t the love of your life. 

    For example, I was dating this girl a few years ago who I thought was ticking boxes. But then told me that she didn’t like going on road trips because she would get carsick and fall violently ill. She also didn’t want to go surfing together because she feared the ocean. One morning, I woke up to find she had drooled on my pillow. I couldn’t put my finger on why, but I started to find myself judging her. 

    Suddenly, I was seeing everything that she did or said through the ick filter. I couldn’t un-see it. Shortly after, I decided we were not a good match for each other and broke things off. 1, 2, 3 icks and you’re out! Fast-forward three years later, and I’m in a happy and beautiful relationship with my current partner, who gets nauseous in the car, was scared of the ocean when we first met, and drools in her sleep! I stay humbled by this slice of karma pie that the universe has dealt me. 

    Looking back, I realized I was looking for reasons to stop dating this other girl, so I found them. These icks became excuses for why she wasn’t the right person for me, when really we just weren’t meant to be together. The truth is that the same things that I was super critical about with one person didn’t really matter all that much when I found the right girl for me. True love is ick-defying. 

    Source: Twitter

    What is the psychology behind why we get the ick?

    So if getting the ick isn’t necessarily about the thing the other person is doing, then what is it about? While the ick isn’t exactly a scientific term, it can be understood as

    “A physical semantic response to being repulsed or not feeling the [vibes] to someone you’re dating.”

    Dr. Christie Kederian, a psychologist specializing in relationships.

    An ick might manifest as a feeling of visceral disgust that triggers your flight response and makes you want to gtfo as fast as possible. It’s always worth questioning why the behavior that you are cringed out by is so triggering for you. If you can’t explain it at the end of the day, you’ve got a genuine case of the ick. 

    That being said, not all icks are created equal, so it’s always worthwhile to question why you might be experiencing sudden aversion to someone. It might just be that you are overly cynical about love and romance, and this person is just giving you exactly the type of love that makes you want to throw on Charlie XCX’s song “Yuck” and belt it.

    Sometimes, we get the ick because we look for flaws in a potential partner that might keep us from getting hurt, rejected, or abandoned. This is a classic defense mechanism.

    If you consistently get the ick with every new date, it might be a you-issue. It begs whether you are self-sabotaging relationships by creating unrealistic standards or finding reasons to cut people off before ever giving them a chance. 

    However, the ick can also show up in a relationship as a signal about a larger red flag in someone’s behavior. If something feels off about this person or how they treat you, you might start to get an uneasy feeling. Trusting your gut and listening to your intuition in these moments is important. It can be hard to see red flags clearly if we are constantly second-guessing ourselves, so make sure to talk things through with trusted friends who have your back.

    You should also know that getting the ick is not necessarily the same thing as having doubts about someone you are in a committed relationship with. If you’ve been dating someone for a while and start suddenly experiencing feelings of disconnection or aversion toward your partner, this might be a sign that something else is going on. 

    A black woman with radiant copper hair sticking her tongue out in disgust in a yellow long sleeve shirt in front of a light gray background.

    Should you break up if you get the ick? 

    The people want to know. Is it possible to ever get over the ick? This is a difficult question to answer flat out. If you get the ick straight away within the first couple of dates, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s difficult to come back from that. Especially if you’ve contracted the ick over something that they can’t or won’t likely change, like the sound of their voice or their beliefs on reproductive rights. Once you get the ick over something like that, it never really goes away until the romantic connection ends. 

    You might feel bad or guilty when you get the ick for someone in fear that you are being too judgemental. But the truth is that the ick isn’t about who a person is, it’s just about how that particular thing makes you feel. It’s better to cut your losses and break up rather than continue being with someone you’re not into just because you feel bad for them. 

    That being said, it can be hard to know what to do if you start to get the ick toward someone you are dating, especially if you really like them. It might just be that you are getting to know someone on a deeper level, and the small things they do irritate you, or you aren’t getting enough alone time. 

    Either way, there is definitely a difference between your partner getting on your nerves and getting the actual ick. It’s a good idea to sit with yourself and investigate where the ick might be coming from to get a better idea of what to do next.

    At the end of the day, proceed with caution if you get the ick. Slow down, listen to what your body is telling you, and truly ask yourself if this is something you can get past. If not, it’s best to bite the bullet and ditch the ick. Who knows, an ick-free friendship might await you on the other side.

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    Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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