The word “ick” has become one of the most commonly used words in the Gen-Z dating dialogue: there’s seldom a conversation I have with friends about dating that gives no mention to the ick. When you’re attracted to someone, and after [insert arbitrary situation] occurs, or they do [insert innocuous action], you are all of a sudden totally turned off by them. But is there any merit to dating icks, or is it just another way our generation finds to be increasingly critical of each other?
Many people can relate to the following scenario: you’re sitting around with friends, and on the topic of dating, you all start declaring your icks; “running for the bus with a backpack on”, “the noise they make after eating something hot”, “watching them tread underwater”, “chasing after a ping pong ball”, the list goes on. You all agree or disagree, coming up with more elaborate and absurd icks as you go on. In my opinion, discussing icks feels like a pretty innocent conversation starter, and a humorous one too. However, it does provide food for thought: where did this all come from?
The first time I personally came across the ick was on TikTok, where the concept of an ick took on an interesting form: people would take to TikTok to recount a situation which occurred that gave them the ick from their partner, almost in attempt to have the viewer picture their own partner in that situation, hence stimulating the ick in the viewer. There was almost an explosion of the ick as a trend on TikTok, or ickTok if you will, which saw people trying to trigger the ick in others.
It would be naive to presume that the ick was simply born and bred on TikTok. The concept long precedes the slang. The sudden feeling of being repulsed by someone, a feeling of being embarrassed or ashamed of them is a feeling you don’t think you can ever come back from. Perhaps we have only given it a name now, but when you boil it down to its bare bones, the ick seems to be a description of a negative gut reaction to something or someone, and shouldn’t you always trust your gut? There is something to be said for the amount of unconscious communication people do in their relationships, and even if someone is ticking all your boxes, it is still possible to react to them in a way that is outside of direct communication. The newly named phenomenon has been gaining much attention from psychologists and scholars alike, who have often recognised that there could be much merit awarded to it: “I absolutely think it’s fear” says Elizabeth Cohen, Ph.D, clinical psychologist, and claims that at the root of the ick is a defence mechanism telling us to get away from an individual as soon as possible. Or as Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D, neuropsychologist puts it: “You may tell yourself you caught the ick as a way of protecting yourself from another failing relationship, commitment, or even intimacy.” So perhaps getting the ick can provide useful in certain situations, and maybe it is a gut feeling worth trusting.
“So two big questions beg: are icks irrational, and are they sexist?”
Nonetheless, the ick faces criticism: it’s unreasonable, absurd, and illogical. The backlash on ickTok was immense, and from what I saw, it often came from the stance of men criticising women for declaring their icks. So two big questions beg: are icks irrational, and are they sexist? I’ve often wondered when engaging in those humorous conversations — declaring that I’d be turned off by someone after seeing their swimming trunks inflate in the water, or witnessing them push a pull door — if I am a bad feminist for saying those sorts of things. After all, the declaration of icks is undeniably a female-dominated space. Do icks express some form of disgust for men being vulnerable? Do they prevent men from being human? Through online trends like the ick, it is possible to argue that we are being far too critical of men, and perhaps a trend that seems harmless is one which actually reinforces patriarchal standards of unrealistic masculinity.
“Gossip, historically, has been used as a form of comradery and solidarity amongst women”
However, there are two sides to every coin. The criticism by men of women and their icks is vividly reminiscent of the demonisation of gossip amongst women by men. Gossip historically has been used as a form of comradery and solidarity amongst women, a means of disseminating important information and navigating social hierarchies in societies where women had been left largely responsible for maintaining social networks and communication. This would also have included women sharing information about potentially threatening men, which is how gossip has gotten its bad reputation: men saw gossip as a threat, and there has been misogynistic demonisation of it ever since. I can’t help but think that the ick seems evocative of gossip. Is the ick simply gossip shapeshifting, taking on a contemporary form? After all, maybe this is just women showing other women how to protect themselves against potentially harmful men, and that is possibly why it is subject to so much criticism.
“I have rarely come across someone who has ended a relationship over the ick and the ick alone.“
Perhaps there is some merit to dating icks. If you’re getting a gut feeling about why someone may not be right for you, maybe there is reason to trust it. The ick might just be the cherry on the cake in a situation which was destined not to work out in the first place. Or maybe the ick is a defence mechanism. However, a catch-22 situation does seem to arise if we’re considering whether it is morally right to discuss our icks as widely as we seem to, especially on social media. On one hand, there is something to be said for allowing men to not fit into such a rigid perception of masculinity. On the other, perhaps the criticism of the ick is a deeply-rooted misogynistic one. It is a fine line, one on which I am not entirely sure where I stand. What I can say, however, is that the ick has provided us all with some entertainment, and perhaps it doesn’t really have that much force. From my experience, discussions over the ick have only ever been humorous, lighthearted and innocent, and I have rarely come across someone who has ended a relationship over the ick and the ick alone.