Modern dating can feel like trying to navigate a minefield. Between getting ghosted by a certain furniture designer in New York and trying to find pandemic-safe date alternatives that don’t involve getting to know your potential partner over video chat, love can feel borderline hopeless. Now, daters have to be wary of something new—something that looms deep within themselves that only they can feel. What happens when attraction turns to disgust in the flip of the switch? This new phenomenon has a name: It’s called catching The Ick.
Newly named, The Ick has been around forever, but it’s been ravaging relationships left and right these past few months. The Ick is the feeling you get when the person you’re dating does something, says something or has something about them that suddenly makes you go “Ew! As if!” and reconsider why you were ever interested in them in the first place.
While you can’t always pinpoint why, the feeling comes on quick and strong—usually without warning.
Why Is Everyone Catching The Ick?
“The Ick is a physical semantic response to being repulsed or not feeling the sparks to someone you’re dating,” explains Dr. Christie Kederian, a psychologist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in the psychology of relationships.
“You can feel it for the first time and it’s a psychological response, something along the lines of visceral disgust,” says Dr. Kederian. “It triggers a flight response within you to remove yourself from the situation.” Then, your body tells you to run away as fast as you can and swear off dating until you feel the Sunday night urge to re-download all of the apps.
It happens to the best of us, but The Ick is different for everyone. It could be something as simple as seeing a The Wolf of Wall Street poster in your partner’s apartment, or stepping into their car and seeing empty Starbucks cups littering the passenger seat. It could be a habit or tendency your ex had, perhaps something stemming from basic hygiene issues or not knowing how to calculate a 20 percent tip.
I recently got out of a long-term relationship, and as I start dating again, the fear of catching The Ick looms all around me. Getting to know someone new is scary enough without worrying about the things about them my body will reject!
Before I dated my ex, The Ick came from partners who were too obsessed with their Apple watches, hung hats on their walls like pieces of art or cited Imagine Dragons as their favorite band. More recently, a guy I was interested in tried to mansplain Taylor Swift to me.
The Ick came on quickly, and I felt I couldn’t get away fast enough, like being shaken awake from a bad dream. I heard a voice in my head say “Ew” and felt my heart deflate like a birthday balloon. Any hope for pursuing him further “slipped away like a bottle of wine,” as Taylor would say.
How Does One Deal With The Ick?
When you catch The Ick and don’t know what to do, Dr. Kederian suggests examining the triggers and the circumstances surrounding how you caught it in the first place. She advises asking yourself questions to try to identify a pattern, whether that involves examining timing around when you usually get The Ick (I.E., Does this always happen around the fourth date?) or why this behavior may be triggering to you (Is it because your ex used to belt Imagine Dragons when you were in the car together?).
Self-awareness is essential when dating, and helps prevent bad behavior patterns from repeating.
The rise in popularity of dating apps has led to the increase of The Ick, as the endless choices presented to users give them a more accessible exit point. If someone gives us The Ick, we can move onto the next person and keep swiping. We don’t have to put up with any bad habits or whatever else we might not like about a potential partner.
However, this constant turnover leaves little room for reflection. How can we truly know if we’re experiencing The Ick, a different gut reaction or just a classic red flag?
Is The Ick The Ultimate Red Flag?
According to Dr. Kederian, The Ick is different from typical red flags. “Usually, with someone’s Ick, you can’t get more information. When you work through a red flag, there is more information from previous relationships or possible toxic dynamics. Getting The Ick is more of a felt experience, and it is more subjective, whereas red flags are more objective.”
She states that while we can easily identify our red flags, an Ick is a feeling we’ve always had and haven’t always been able to put into words, which is why it’s so much tricker to dissect. When analyzing The Ick, focusing on the Why can help someone ensure that this reaction doesn’t appear out of thin air and sabotage a potentially good relationship.
When it comes to catching The Ick, daters need to be honest with themselves and their partners, and try to understand if their partner’s behavior can change through open conversation. Reacting in a mature way to The Ick—instead of, you know, ghosting—can make navigating the dating world a little bit easier.
But when it comes to someone who tries to mansplain Taylor Swift, take my advice and run away in the opposite direction.