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ETYNTK about “the ick” and why we get it

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What is “the ick”?Tara Moore

When he drops a coin and fumbles to pick it up? Ick. When she says her ex-girlfriend is her platonic soulmate (but don’t worry, she’s totally over her)? Ick. When you find out they’re an android user? Ick.

You’ve probably heard of ‘the ick’, it’s become pretty ubiquitous in dating conversations, but it’s still a relationship phenomenon that can be difficult to understand. We might not always be sure why it happens, but when it happens, we definitely know about it. You might have heard about your friends experiencing “the ick”, or you might have felt it yourself without really knowing what it is.

So, what is “the ick” and how do you know you’ve got it? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is “the ick”?

“The ick” was first coined by Ally in TV show Ally McBeal, and, as dating expert Hayley Quinn explains: “It’s a dating term that means you get a sudden cringe feeling when you have romantic contact with someone: and become almost immediately put off by them.” You might feel suddenly repulsed, put off or cringed out by the person you’re dating – that’s “the ick” talking.

“The ick is different to just doubting whether you want to be with somebody,” says Gurpreet Singh, a relationship counsellor and psychotherapist at Relate. “The ick is much more repulsive. It’s a very strong gut reaction, either to the mannerisms of the person or the way they behave.”

“It could be that you’ve picked something up in their value system that’s completely different from yours, the way they laugh or tell a joke might completely irritate you, or it could even just be their look or smell. There are a whole variety of reasons why the ick develops, but it’s a deep feeling that this person isn’t somebody you want to be with.”

“Feeling the ick doesn’t mean that the person you’re dating has done anything wrong,” adds Gurpreet. “They’re just the way they are and it might just irritate you.”

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How long does it usually take to catch “the ick”?

Unfortunately, catching the ick can happen to anyone, and there doesn’t seem to be much you can do to stop it. Hayley explains that the ick can be nearly instant. “You go on a few dates with someone who is doing all the right things but you just can’t shake that feeling of wanting to physically recoil when they come closer,” says Hayley. “This can also happen later on in the dating stages, when someone does something that suddenly becomes a major turn off.”

“The ick largely happens early on in a relationship when you’re getting to know the person you’re dating, usually within the first few months or the honeymoon period. You might start to realise repeated behaviours that give you the ick,” adds Gurpreet.

“However, if you start having doubts later down the line in a relationship, that’s probably not an ick and would be more indicative of just drifting apart.”

Why do people catch “the ick” in a relationship?

If you really like the person you’re dating, it can be kinda confusing when “the ick” seemingly comes out of nowhere.

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“Often people undervalue the amount of unconscious communication that happens in a relationship,” says Gurpreet. “Our responses to somebody’s smell, behaviour or value systems can largely be unconscious, and the ick usually comes from that unconscious gut reaction.”

“If you feel the ick, give it some time to think about whether you could put up with their behaviour long-term. However, if you can’t even tolerate them touching your hand then it’s not something you can continue to put up with. Ultimately, you shouldn’t ignore it. The ick is a gut reaction, and usually the best thing is to trust your gut.”

However, while the ick might be a response to something irritating that the other person does, Hayley says that it could also signify a hesitancy to get closer to the person. “When you get the ick, it can be good to self reflect: am I being too picky? Do I just need more time to get comfortable with this person? Sometimes the ick can reflect our own discomfort with getting closer to someone, rather than something the other person is actively doing,” says Hayley.

How can you tell if you've caught “the ick”?

“If you have the ick you will know about it! You will find yourself justifying why you should keep seeing someone, telling yourself, ‘But they're so nice!’, when your gut instinct is telling you you’re just not feeling it,” explains Hayley. “It can happen when you know someone likes you, you recognise that they have good qualities, and you really want a relationship... but you feel like you’re trying to force yourself to feel something you don’t.”

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Gurpreet adds that when you've got “the ick’, “you'll feel irritated, repulsed, you won’t want to go near the person or might want to leave the room if they’re in it. You might feel embarrassed by them or ashamed of them, and might not want them to touch or kiss you or hold your hand.”

“Anything that feels like you want to get away from the person is a pretty good indication that something isn’t right, because, obviously, in a relationship, you should want to enjoy their company.”

Can you get rid of “the ick” once you’ve caught it?

Although you might want to try to rationalise your feelings, and convince yourself that you do like this person despite feeling cringed out, at the end of the day “the ick” is a feeling that’s pretty hard to shake.

“Ultimately it’s always best to trust your instincts and accept you want to move on,” says Hayley. “You can know you want to have a relationship, you can know you like their qualities, but you can also accept you just don’t feel that way about them.”

Gurpreet adds: “It depends whether the behaviours that irritate you are negotiable and whether they can change them. But it’s not something they can change, like their natural mannerisms, then it’s better to understand sooner rather than later that the relationship isn’t going to work, because that will allow you to move on more quickly to a relationship that is right for you.”

Women who have experienced “the ick” explain what it feels like

  1. “The ick never lies, don’t ignore it,” says Vanessa*

“I’d been going out with this guy for a couple weeks before we had sex for the first time. After that, I found him bit annoying but I just told myself it was nothing and carried on as normal. Then about three months in, something in my head just completely switched and I just couldn’t stand being around him. His voice annoyed me, his jokes weren’t funny anymore, I clammed up when he tried to hug or kiss me.

I was young and didn’t really get it though, so I just stayed with him but bitched to my friends relentlessly. One day we were in a cab and he caught me texting my best friend saying how much I couldn’t stand him. That’s when I realised I was being a huge dick and had to pull the plug.

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We stayed friends after and the ick miraculously went away as soon as we broke up. I felt bad for how I’d been but I think I was so young I didn’t really get it, now I see that there’s a big difference between your partner getting on your nerves and full-blown ick. Teachable moment; the ick never lies, don’t ignore it.”

2. “The ick manifested in a kind of semi panic attack,” says Amber*

“I met a guy years ago on a dating app. He was handsome and funny, kind, and keen. In the days running up to the first date he had been in NYC and arrived to the pub brandishing a bag of gifts for me, small and silly things, but nonetheless I could feel the ick rising in my throat. It felt a lot for a first date.

We went on a couple more dates and then one evening I came home to my flat, through two very imposing security gates and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw my front door. The doormat was covered in potted geraniums, like a lot of them (I had mentioned in passing that I quite liked them), and there was a handwritten card containing an elaborate itinerary for the next date. The ick manifested in a kind of semi panic attack and then I pulled the plug. Too much too soon!”

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3. “I was already unsure of him anyway,” says Carmen*

“I was dating this guy who I was a little unsure of anyway and then witnessed him try and do sexy dancing. There is nothing less sexy than a man with zero rhythm moving like a drunk dad at a wedding.”

4. “The thought of him licking my vagina made me want to die,” says Giorgina*

“I went downstairs to my front room after a house party and found a friend of a friend Anton* asleep on my sofa. We got chatting, went up to my room to watch trash TV and ended up hanging out the whole of the next day, hooking up and having fairly decent sex. We hooked up again not long after on a night out with friends, then went on a dinner date shortly after that and all of a sudden I looked at him across the table, chopsticks in hand and the thought of him licking my vagina made me want. To. Die. He didn’t necessarily do or say anything but I noticed his hoody and leather jacket combo was actually a 2-in-1 garment, not two separate ones, which maybe put me off a bit? But after that I had to break it off ASAP.”

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