The ick is now an undisputed part of not only our modern lexicon, but our everyday dating lives. You will be hard-pushed to find someone who hasn’t been there. You are dating someone, everything is going well, then out of nowhere they do something, which on the surface might be completely inane, but from that point — everything they do utterly repulses you. The ick is typically nondescript. There are logical, justifiable, deal-breakers, such as bad personal hygiene, or alarming behaviour, and offensive comments. And then there’s icks, seeing someone’s umbrella blow inside out, or them tying the little bow in their pyjama bottoms. Innocuous daily actions which can turn into deal-breakers.
Once the ick has been triggered, it’s notoriously hard to come back from. In a survey conducted by sex toy brand Lovehoney, 43 percent of women surveyed claimed to have ended relationships as a result of the ick, and 60 percent said there is no coming back from it. A bleak outlook, certainly. The ick is something everyone actively dating lives in fear of; whether that be in the form of spontaneously getting the ick for someone we’re really into — or worse — us giving them the ick. Though the modern mythology surrounding the ick has come a long way from when Olivia Attwood first discussed it on ITV’s reality dating show Love Island in 2017. The ick evolved in spring 2020 in the form of a TikTok trend, something that’s now been dubbed IckTok. Gen Z started sharing their own icks or ick-inducing situations. The overarching aim of these conversations is to help trigger the ick for other people if they imagined this specific individual doing this specific thing. The ick was no longer something to simply live in fear of — it was turning into a tool. People were utilising it for the greater good.
The number of people sharing their icks on TikTok only continued (and still continues) to rise. At the time of writing, the hashtag #theick has 220.9 million views on the app. The new trend ultimately reclaimed the narrative of the ick, changing it from something to be feared into something to be embraced; even encouraged in certain cases. Not only was it transforming into a positive force, helping people get over their breakups and heartbreak, triggering the ick for someone they were dating who they knew was toxic, it was becoming a unifying force also. The trend paved the way for people to send their icks to their friends, in their group chats, finding solidarity in the things that gross them out. In a survey conducted by dating app Badoo, 35 percent of people said they were influenced by icks they had seen online; the ick was becoming a real time tool.
I started imagining him enacting these icks that people were sharing on social media: randomly doing the splits, sitting on a bar stool and his legs swinging, getting into a huff when the restaurant had sold out of what he wanted.
The rise in this TikTok trend coincided with a “situationship” of mine. Following the end of a long-term relationship, I went in search of someone exciting and ended up embroiled with a man I knew was bad news. A textbook situation, he was a lot older, took a lot of drugs, I couldn’t stay away from him but knew I needed to before I was in too deep. I started imagining him enacting these icks that people were sharing on social media: randomly doing the splits, sitting on a bar stool and his legs swinging, getting into a huff when the restaurant had sold out of what he wanted. Miraculously, it was working. The thought of him started to make me dry heave.
If we are to get the ick for someone we’re seeing, it’s typically early doors, with a quarter of people reporting having the ick within the first month of dating, according to a YouGov survey. With this, it is widely felt that true love defies the ick. Often when you’re in love, things that would otherwise trigger feelings of revulsion are somehow endearing (or at least tolerable) instead. That doesn’t mean this isn’t the case post-breakup. Twenty five year-old Amy experienced this first hand with the last man she was dating. When they had first added each other on social media, his photos hadn’t gone unnoticed. “They were just awkward,” she explains. “One he had his thumbs up for no apparent reason, in another he and his friends were just standing together very awkwardly.” At the time of dating, Amy liked him enough to be able to just laugh it off. After they ended however, they became useful. “Every time I felt sad about the situation, I just went onto his Instagram. It’s honestly what got me over him.” Having a list of things a partner did during a relationship that put you off them to help you through the breakup has always been a widespread coping mechanism — the ick developed into a progression on this, something people could give a name to.
There’s undeniably a deeper undercurrent to the ick. If true love defies the ick, then by proxy, this must mean that when the ick strikes, it’s the manifestation of something already brewing — whether we’re conscious of it or not. The ick is a physical manifestation of your subconscious effectively saying this is not it, this is not the person. This can be hard to make peace with if the reason for getting the ick is seemingly inane. Though it may not have been them speaking on their Instagram stories as though they were an influencer that is necessarily the reason why you don’t want to be with them, it’s just what triggered the feeling. The upside here however, is even though the reason for getting the ick may be innocuous, it’s something you can put a label on as to why you can no longer date that person.
The ick is something that has always existed, we just didn’t have the words to describe it.
The ick can also save us a lot of time in simply giving small flags of general incompatibility. This was the case for twenty six year-old Matilda. “As a person, I don’t get the ick and immediately sack someone off, but I have got the ick and that’s been a precursor for what was to come,” she explains. Matilda found this to be true when she started dating one man in the summer of 2021. They continued to date for a number of months, but the ick was bubbling from the beginning: “Bearing in mind this was the height of summer, he was wearing a T-shirt but then he put on a snood with this very casual outfit — to a barbecue.” Despite his sartorial decisions causing the rumbling of an ick, Matilda continued to see if it was the exception to the rule, though the ick only kept on building: “He had a Onewheel and he would just ride it everywhere.” (A Onewheel is an electric skateboard with a rather sizeable wheel in the middle of it.) She recalls, “We’d be in a restaurant and there would just be this fat wheel that he would carry around everywhere with him. Ultimately, I just knew that, when I saw that, he wasn’t the one.” If Matilda had had strong feelings towards this man, would this have triggered such a visceral reaction? Or would she have found it charming or view it as a funny idiosyncrasy that she paid little mind to?
The ick is something that has always existed, we just didn’t have the words to describe it. Before it was in the mainstream, something we were able to label, attempt to justify, there are countless people who would have ended their relationships due to the, as yet unnamed, ick. Consciousness and awareness of the ick are something that’s never going to leave us. It’s out there, we’ve taken in all the conversations and the content online. Common awareness of the ick has irrevocably changed the course of our modern dating lives. If it wasn’t already a minefield, fear of getting or giving the ick undoubtedly makes the already complex dating scene even harder to navigate.
However, if the ick isn’t something we’re ever going to be able to avoid, harnessing the power of it is all we can do. In the aforementioned survey conducted by Badoo, 75 percent of people are picking up on their own icks after seeing them via ick-related content. If ick content online triggers something within you, assess whether that’s something you can work past with someone you’re currently seeing, it’s something you can use to help get over an ex, or it’s simply a deal-breaker. If it wasn’t for the labelling of it in recent years, there could have been countless relationships still ongoing today where someone was slightly repulsed by how their partner held their fork. The ick is here to stay — so we may as well start embracing it.