The Ick: Random or Real?

Explaining the ick, a rising dilemma in this generation’s relationships.


#TheIck has over 183 million views on Tik Tok with users sharing their supposed “icks” while others argue the absurdity of the concept. / Photo from Tik Tok

Ick. A word used to describe disgust. Popularized last year, “getting the ick” is commonly used in the modern dating scene, usually in the early phases of a relationship or even vaguer situationships. 

This particular definition of the term was coined in 2017 by Love Island contestant Olivia Attwood when describing the downfall of a relationship she had with another contestant despite the apparent (or not so apparent) chemistry between them. She says, “When you’ve seen a boy, and got the ick, it doesn’t go. “It’s caught you, and it’s taken over your body. It’s just ick. I can’t shake it off.” 

The ick is generally characterized by feelings of disgust, annoyance, simply not wanting to be with or around said person who induced it. Ranging from completely arbitrary actions to extremely niche things, the Ick has taken the dating world by storm. 

Sharing different icks has become something of an inside joke online. While icks are quite spontaneous and absolutely subjective, people on the Internet have found a surprising amount of relatability with them. 

From poor fashion choices like skinny ribbed jeans (yes, ribbed not ripped) to the dehumanizing act of chasing a tennis ball forever out of reach to grammatical mistakes between they’re, their, and there in messages, Tiktok users have flooded comments with examples of their own specific icks. 

However, not all Internet users agree with the ick. Buzzfeed’s 23 Things Men Do That Are Actually Icks article reveals the discourse with many perturbed readers in the comments. The list included walking back after your turn in bowling, wearing a cape during a haircut, and a massive shoelace bow after doing your laces, none of which target actual personality traits and are completely trivial. In response to the article, user badgersilk says, “As far as I can tell, this is a joke which arose from people sharing actual gross “icks” and moved to people just sharing things that universally feel awkward to experience, firsthand or secondhand.” 

The flexibility and unpredictability of the ick makes it unavoidable. But if it’s not a disease, how does one get it?

Mr. Anderson from The Perks of Being A Wallflower says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” In a way, modern society has rewired the original meaning of the quote to serve a self-love, self-worshiping, “I actually do deserve better” mindset. 

But how far can we take it before it becomes less self-appreciation and more self-preservation? Clinical psychologist, relationship expert, and cognitive behavioral therapist, Elizabeth Cohn, Ph.D theorizes that the ick feeling ultimately stems from fear. 

The ick being a defense mechanism actually explains a lot more than one would think. It serves as a scapegoat allowing us to remove blame from ourselves and permitting emotional immaturity. Our aversion to responsibility is simplified to a random act rather than built up tension gradually chipping away at a relationship or desiring an easy way out. 

Icks may also be a figment of our imagination. Some may find themselves creating made up scenarios just to get over a failed talking stage, or an ex they would rather forget. 

Alternatively, Dr. Raquel Peel, a professor at the University of Queensland, claims that the ick is a form of protection when we observe red flags within potential partners. Rather than ignoring signs of clear commitment issues, we may recognize that the person is an actual threat to the security and comfort that one usually desires in a relationship. 

She still observes that the ick may also be a form of self-sabotage. In a society that was raised by fairytale weddings and the obsession with life-long partnership, the concept of “fate” and “the one” has been ingrained into our minds. We grow up seeing self-sacrificing love interests, extravagant gestures of affection by massive bouquets of roses and chocolate boxes, and penguins who mate for life; inside we wonder, “When will it be my turn?”

But when the time does come around for someone to actually show interest, we shy away from it automatically. For some, it is the idea of love that they are infatuated with rather than actually spending time with a person. 

It is important to take the feelings we have seriously, and take Internet trends with a grain of salt. Without taking a deep dive into our greatest insecurities and fears, we need to evaluate our own levels of maturity first and foremost. Icks can alleviate the pressures of having a crush on someone, but in serious, established relationships communication is essential to navigate hard situations.