What Exactly Is "the Ick"?

·5-min read
Couple sitting on bench outside city cafe drinking espresso man resting head on woman's shoulder
Couple sitting on bench outside city cafe drinking espresso man resting head on woman's shoulder

So get this: You're into someone. Like, really into them. You're texting all the time, thinking about each other all the time, and you're constantly looking forward to the next time you'll see them again. This might be something that lasts, or maybe you're just having fun getting to know someone new. Either way, you're definitely hooked.

The next time you see them, though, something feels off. Everything they're saying and doing is . . . outrageously annoying. You cringe at their touch, and all sexual desire dissipates. Quirks you've never noticed before - the way their face looks when they're eating food, how they keep talking about this one movie they're obsessed with, and even the cute nickname they use to address you - now seems absolutely insufferable.

This phenomenon, called "the ick," usually happens in the early stages of a relationship before you've developed a bond strong enough to help you overlook someone's flaws and imperfections. It's recently gained popularity on TikTok, but the term was first coined by Ally in the TV show "Ally McBeal" and further popularized in a "Sex in the City" episode titled "The Ick Factor." "How I Met Your Mother" also has an episode dedicated to explaining the phenomenon, and it's become even more mainstream by constant usage on the UK dating show "Love Island."

So what do we know about "the ick"? POPSUGAR spoke with a few relationship experts to get the scoop on "the ick" and what exactly you can do about it if you think you may have caught it.

What Exactly Is "the Ick"?

When you feel the ick in a relationship, you're no longer seeing your partner through rose-colored honeymoon sunglasses. Rori Sassoon, co-owner of matchmaking agency Platinum Poire and dating expert on "Real Housewives of New York," says that "the ick" is a feeling of disgust toward a habit, behavior, or trait that really irks you about them. Is it that weird TV show you begrudgingly watch? Or is it that snort laugh that somehow you can't justify as sexy? The ick can surface in various forms, but the reaction is generally the same: ew.

What Should You Do When You Catch "the Ick"?

It can feel highly disorienting to go from pure infatuation and bliss to repulsion or disgust with someone you're dating, and it can cause you to question many aspects of the relationship. Is it just the novelty fading? Or is there something seriously wrong? Or maybe you weren't that into them from the start?

The good news: these feelings are actually more common than you might think, and they don't necessarily mean it's time to quit your relationship. Instead, they can serve as an opportunity to peel back the layers on your deeper feelings and thoughts and address any potential triggers that might be manifesting themselves. All emotional investments come with their bouts of unpleasant feelings, and how we respond to them is important.

"This 'ick' feeling or introspective 'trigger' is perhaps a signal that we are out of alignment with our date or partner," Julianne McGowan, certified dating and relationship coach and an author of "Ignite Love," tells POPSUGAR. "It may be helpful to ask yourself these questions: What might be off? What needs to be nurtured? Where might this feeling be coming from? Am I possibly being reminded of someone else or something from my past?"

Betsy Chung, PhD, clinical psychologist and relationship expert at XOXO, adds that those with perfectionist tendencies are most likely to experience "the ick," especially if their parents were overly critical about particular traits. To keep "the ick" from jeopardizing an otherwise good relationship, she suggests trying these strategies:

  1. Mindfully shift your attention inward. The way that you generally feel during interactions with a partner is a much better indicator of relationship health and success than observable external factors.

  2. Lead with compassion. Nobody's perfect, and being part of any relationship requires learning to accept others' flaws. Gaining some perspective behind a partner's flaws can reduce superficial judgment and nurture the compassion necessary to foster interpersonal vulnerability.

On one hand, though, sometimes "the ick" really is trying to alert you to a red flag or a deeper issue. Once you feel ready to assess your relationship and see what's causing these feelings, take note if it's something that can be fixed, like communication styles or conflict resolution, and if it's worth trying to work on it. If you look deeper into it and the "ick" you're feeling is actually indicative of something toxic or unsteady - or if it boils down to differing fundamental values and interests - maybe it's time to let go and move on.

On another hand, the "ick" could also be an indicator that perhaps you're genuinely just not attracted to the person anymore. It's OK to notice something in the early stages of dating that's a non-negotiable turn off. Not all "icks" are necessarily about something deeper.

What Does It Mean If You Catch "the Ick" With Every Partner?

If you catch "the ick" with every person you date, it might be time to do some self-reflecting. Perhaps you're afraid of committing to a relationship or you fear rejection and intimacy, so you nitpick the people you meet to protect yourself. Or perhaps you're looking for a perfect partner (which is also a self-protection mechanism, by the way!). It could also be that you're just having fun and not looking to explore anything serious. Regardless of the reason, if you're worried that cringey feeling is popping up with every single person you're interested in, it's time for a check-in.

Can You Get Rid of "the Ick" Once You Catch It?

Though it can be really hard to shake, you can get rid of "the ick" once you catch it, but it may take some time, patience, and reframing in your mind. If their icky quirk is a small thing you could learn to love, it'll take some effort to reframe it into something endearing. But if "the ick" is unshakeable, you've tried rationalizing your feelings, and their behaviors are non-negotiable, trust your intuition!

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