Yes, It's Possible to Get Over "the Ick" — Here's How
Imagine you're into someone — like, really, really into them. You're texting all the time, thinking about each other, and constantly looking forward to the next time you'll see them again. But the next time you meet up, something feels off.
Suddenly, everything they're saying and doing is, well, outrageously annoying. You cringe at their touch, and all the sexual tension you may have felt at one point is completely nonexistent. At this point, you've become blatantly aware of some quirks you never noticed before — maybe the way their face looks when they're eating food or the nickname they use for you is making you irrationally angry. Either way, everything they do suddenly seems insufferable.
If this is something you've ever experienced before, I'm sorry to say, you may have caught "the ick."
Not to be confused with a red flag or a beige flag, 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 and 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? We spoke with a few relationship experts to get some more intel on the ick and what exactly you can do about it if you think you may have caught it.
What Is "the Ick"?
When you notice yourself feeling the ick, it's likely 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 "The 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.
"The Ick" Examples
If you've never experienced the ick before, you may not know what exactly this looks like. To help, we've curated some common examples of the ick, according to social media. Just remember that icks are very subjective, and what one person may deem an ick may be attractive or completely normal to someone else.
- They order chicken fingers at a fancy restaurant.
- They trip over something.
- Their butt crack shows in public.
- They chase a ping-pong ball after it falls off the table.
- They sing karaoke unironically.
- They say a joke and no one laughs.
- They use this emoji. 🥺
- They have chapped lips.
- They clap when the plane lands.
- They sing incorrect lyrics to a popular song on the radio.
What to Do If 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?"
On the other 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 nonnegotiable turnoff. 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 with yourself and maybe even a licensed mental health therapist who can help you get to the root of the issue.
How to Get Over "the Ick"
Though it can be really hard to shake, you can get rid of the ick, 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. And maybe it would help to look at the ick as more of a cute quirk that makes them them.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
But if the ick seems to be unshakeable, and even after you've tried rationalizing your feelings, speaking with a mental health professional, and/or getting to the root of the problem, you're still feeling this way, trust your intuition. It may be a sign that you're just not that into them, and that's OK.
— Additional reporting by Taylor Andrews