Did you get 'the ick' or is it your intuition?
How arbitrary but relatable turnoffs have found their place on TikTok.
If you’ve been on a first date, you can probably relate the slight but precise moment that your romantic interest goes from desirable to repulsive. It’s generally known as getting “the ick” and, for some, it can be as arbitrary as their date scooting into the restaurant booth in a way they don’t like, using the wrong emojis or even not liking hummus (that one might be reasonable). “Me after deciding to break-up with my boyfriend because he struggled to get through airport security and it gave me the ick,” writes one particularly savage TikTok user.
While getting “the ick” is usually characterized by something almost indescribable turning you off a particular person — like when you have to explain to your friend that you no longer like that guy because of his laugh — it’s a small but mighty occurrence. To the sweet sweet sounds of Will.i.am’s “Bang Bang” (released 2013) over 18k users have shared their examples, amassing over 432 million views on the #ick hashtag. Welcome to #icktok.
Secure, established relationships are not even immune from “the ick”. Thus it’s a first-date ruiner and a relationship ender as, generally speaking, after feeling it, many suggest there’s no going back to finding that person sexually desirable again. But are these small turn offs a sign of larger incompatibilities?
Dating couch Alexis Germany says that icks are often “gut feelings” that people need to look further into when dating. “They could point to anything from a lack of sexual attraction to overall compatibility issues,” she says. With that in mind, however, Alexis also says there are many icks that are purely superficial and should likely be overlooked. They might even if be a result of your own internal issues or previous relationship trauma. “A client of mine said a new suitor gave her ‘the ick’ when he expressed excitement for their next date,” she says. “That’s not a protective ick, that's more like a toxic mindset.”
Across the internet, the line between a naturally occurring ick and toxicity (and perpetuating misogyny, misogynoir and toxic masculinity) is constantly being blurred. While girls describing trivial things that men do — carrying a tray, eating yogurt or looking both ways before crossing the road — is by far the most common content on ickTok, many men have shared their icks too — women driving over a speed bump or owning a salt lamp, for example, qualify as ick-worthy. Though, of course, the ick doesn’t discriminate when it comes gender identity and sexuality. Sharing bizarre icks seems to be fostering sense of community online (we’ve all been there), but, at a certain point, we mustn’t fall into the trap of finding anything our partner enjoys cringe-worthy.
Sheena Jones, a 26-year-old designer based in London, believes “the ick” is a form of self-preservation that resulted from previous trauma. “Overtly forward behaviour is my biggest ick because it’s a form of control,” she says. “The ick can be a form of self-preservation and protection for a situation that I know will be detrimental to my mental health. I’m finding a way to leave because I never wanted to be there anyway.”
Some people on TikTok are even attempting to force the feeling of “the ick” to detach them from unhealthy connections. By sharing pretend scenarios online — like “him going down a waterslide awkwardly smiling” and “him choking on cheese and onion crisps” — we’re encouraged to imagine a crush or unrequited love in situations that humanize them. Then there are “reverse ick” videos for forcing yourself to like someone more. “Imagine crying in their arms and they just hold you,” writes one user.
While thinking of people in more realistic scenarios could help those who tend to put romantic interests on an idealized pedestal, sex therapist Dr. Lexx Brown-James says it’s probably more helpful to remember real reasons relationships didn’t work out. “As much as being rejected can hurt, I'm sure being tolerated in a place you're unwanted is worse,” she says. “And if they're the person who left the other, there are reasons that they can hang onto to recall why they broke up with them. I think those real experiences are also as powerful, if not more so, than fantastical icks.”
By nature, “the ick” is a gut feeling that can’t be forced and, according to Dr. Brown-James, also shouldn’t be ignored if it manifests more than once in an encounter. “The feeling of quicksilver in the body can be an indicator that something is amiss,” she says. “Icks that register against your own morality and values are ones that shouldn't be ignored, and should surely be explored to let you know if you are wasting your time.”
Whether it’s your intuition guiding you or simply a lack of sexual attraction to your partner, everyone deserves to be dating someone they like — not barely tolerate. And, as hilarious as some of the more ridiculous icks can be, the reality is that if you lose feelings over a normal occurrence, your romantic feelings probably weren’t strong enough in the first place. It’s not the thing itself that's “the ick”, it’s the person doing it. This universal truth is perhaps what makes these scenarios so niche but relatable, and ultimately, so viral.