Got 'the ick'? The hilariously relatable term is taking over TikTok (2024)

If you've ever been on a first — or second, or tenth — date and found yourself cringing over one of your love interest's quirks, then you're not alone.

There's a name for that surprising feeling of unpleasantness you get when you see a prospective partner doing something awkward, gross, or embarrassing: the ick.

According to Merriam-Webster, "ick" can be used to "express disgust at something unpleasant or offensive." In recent years, "ick" has been used more specifically to refer to a romantic faux pas.

The first notable usage of 'the ick' in this context was on a 1997 episode of "Ally McBeal."

“Sometimes I just know that it’s not a match, even when I don’t know the ‘why’ part,” the titular character told a rejected suitor. “We call it the ick."

Since then, the concept of 'the ick' has grown in popularity on social media.

On TikTok, people are documenting a seemingly-endless number of icks. Currently, there are 191,000 posts on TikTok that boast the hashtag #ick.

We asked relationship experts about everything you need to know about the ick, including what it is, why we get it, and whether it's possible to get over it.

What is the ick?

Dr. Christie Kederian, a psychologist, relationship expert, and LMFT, explains the term:

“The ick is this feeling that you get in the early stages of a dating relationship — you could also feel it later on, but most often in the early stages — where you get disgusted or turned off by some mannerism or action that the person you’re dating does,” she says.

According to relationship expert Jaime Bronstein, the source of the ick is often a relatively minor behavior.

“The ick is usually a pretty surface level thing," she says.

However, no matter how trivial the ick behavior may seem, Bronstein recommends diving deeper to discover the reason behind your disgust.

"It’s important to assess, is this a surface thing that we fix, or is this a core part of their personality? And if it’s a core part of the personality, they’re not going to change that," she says.

Often defined as a mini dealbreaker that's not quite as glaring as, say, a red or beige flag, icks are often personal and surprising in the moment.

Kedarian names poor personal hygiene, rudeness to waitstaff, and talking too much about past relationships as three major personal icks. Bronstein says that bad table manners, double-texting, and not putting in enough effort on dates are behaviors that can make people less appealing as potential partners.

TikTok user @ohheyms.a posted a list of icks that she and her friends compiled together.

The lighthearted list includes icks like “when he plays air guitar” and “him walking angry in flip flops.”

Why do we get 'the ick'?

Kederian explains that the ick can stem from a combination of factors.

At the beginning of a relationship, your attraction to your partner causes a physiological response in your brain.

"When you start dating someone, you have kind of this love-bubble, honeymoon-effect feeling," she says. "It’s a combination of the neurotransmitters that are wiring in your brain when you’re initially attracted to somebody."

However, this bubbly feeling isn't guaranteed to last — and it might influence you to ignore qualities that could become dealbreakers in the future.

"It can make you overlook some things that might actually bother you or annoy you early on in a relationship," Kedarian says. "Later, when that feeling naturally fades away, you start to get to know someone in a three-dimensional way, and then you start to notice some things that you’re not really attracted to. Even things that you thought were cute before when you’re in the love bubble can start to get annoying later."

Can your relationship survive the ick?

According to Kedarian, it depends on the relationship — and the ick in particular.

Kedarian advises that self-reflection is a great first step. If you always get the ick at a certain point in a relationship — say, date number 5 — the feeling may have less to do with your partner's behavior and more to do with your own feelings.

“You really have to categorize when you get that feeling: does this have to do with me, or does this have to do with that other person?" she says.

If you feel that the ick is really on your partner's end, Kederian suggests asking yourself: "Is this something that they could change? Is this a behavior or a habit that they can probably work on? Or is it something internal that’s part of who they are?"

If the quality that bugs you is really part of who they are, and you can’t get past it, Kederian says it's possible that you and your partner aren't a match.

However, when the ick comes up in longer, more serious relationships, communication is key.

“If you’re deeper into a relationship, it's about communicating, 'Hey, I really don’t like when you leave the toothpaste cap off,' or eat with your mouth open, or whatever habit it is. You can express that and come from a loving place instead of a critical place. Because you love them as a whole person and you see them in that holistic way, then you can get over it because you know that the other things about them are more important," she says.

Bronstein notes that both partners should use tact in tough discussions.

"When couples don’t communicate things that bother them, they can get worse, and then resentment and contempt can grow," she says. "Share how you’re feeling with empathy and compassion, and your message will be received a lot better than if you share your message with judgment and animosity."

Sophie Caldwell

Associate Lifestyle Reporter

Got 'the ick'? The hilariously relatable term is taking over TikTok (2024)
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