‘The Ick Epidemic’: Why Does It Happen And Can You Overcome It?

Let's investigate, shall we?

Picture the scene, you’re two or three dates in and you’re thinking, “hey, I actually really like this person”. You look forward to their texts, get butterflies at the thoughts of seeing them, and it’s all going pretty well. Then, bang! The “ick” descends. Suddenly that cute kiss emoji they send turns your stomach, the way they ruffle their hair seems borderline obsessive and the mere sight of them in an annoyance. The term “the ick” has entered our vernacular in the last while (most notably demonstrated by Leanne on Winter Love Island), and perfectly describes the strange sensation when fondness transitions to “get the f*ck away from me”.

From this moment forward, no matter how hard you try to suppress your feelings, you just can’t look at that person in the same way. You cringe at the thought of their messages and that quirky sense of humour now gives you goosebumps…but not the good kind.

If you’ve experienced the ick, you may be wondering ‘at what stage, if at all, do I bin them off?’ But sadly the feelings-killer doesn’t follow a strict guideline. This inexplicable sudden repulsion can occur after a few dates with a previous stranger, or with a partner that you have been with for years. Now that you know what it is, you have to question whether it’s a gut instinct that you should trust, or simply a momentary lapse that you should push past?

Niamh, 34, caught the ick early on with her fella, but stayed with him for several years afterward. “I was quite young, 21 or 22, and I hadn’t much experience with lads having been in a long-term relationship throughout my teens. I remember I was going away with my new boyfriend for the night, and I knew it would be the night we sealed the deal. I was excited, buying new knickers and everything, but I remember he looked across the car at me at one point, and my stomach turned over – and not in a good way! I told myself it was just nerves. What it really was, was the ick, but I didn’t know it.”


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“Hindsight is 20/20, and I think at the time it was a sign to cut and run because I have never, ever had those feelings with my now-husband. But then, I just thought it was normal, and eventually got used to him. I also knew in the back of my mind he wasn’t The One though, and it could be said I wasted a good few years on him, but I don’t look at it like that because I’m happy with how my life has turned out. I think the ick is an early indicator that you can choose to ignore or not.” There are myriad reasons for the ick to occur – you might fancy them overall but there might be one strange kink, trait or expression that sends a negative shiver down your spine.

They might be absolutely bang on except for the fact that they’re a) rude to waiters, b) chew loudly, or c) never split the bill. However it is much more complicated if there’s history there.

Let’s say your date was a friend before the romance, and hypothetically they sneeze without covering their mouths (yes, you can get the ick from this, as well as the coronavirus). It’s not appealing, but is it a decent reason to end things? Well, perhaps right now! What if you’re in a serious relationship, though? Is the ick a sure sign that it’s over? It may have been smooth sailing for a few years and suddenly it feels like an unanticipated revulsion that you just can’t shake off. This can be frightening as you may wonder, why now? But the majority of the time, it’s not just one small thing. It can be some major turning point or a compilation of minor things like those awful tracksuit bottoms that they refuse to get rid of, or the fact that they put the milk in the bowl before the cereal. You can try to ignore these little things at first but in the end, it will feel like they are adding liquid drops of lava to a dormant volcano.

Vanessa, 29, got the ick in a big way after three years of living with her ex. “It was like a switch flipped, and one day I just couldn’t stand the sight of him,” she explains. “Looking back, it seemed so sudden, but now I know it was really a culmination of things. We were growing up at different rates, we were changing as we grew, and we’d just totally grown apart. The day we split up was sad, but I just eventually felt so relieved.” Trusting in your intuition is a great strategy for dealing with the ick.


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Even if it does seem illogical in some circumstances, your intuition is a really powerful thing that connects your mind, body and spirit, making it a worthy thing to trust. If you feel that these small annoyances aren’t something that you can get past, move on. However, it’s also important to ask yourself if commitment issues are playing a part. Maybe you would describe yourself as emotionally unavailable. If so, you may believe that getting the ick is your fault. You might start to think ‘am I picking this poor person apart just so I can find something I don’t like about them which will justify my breaking up with them?’ Hello, Chandler Bing.

The answer is no, it is not our fault. Although the ick can be encouraged by your resistance to get close to someone rather than the person actively irritating you, it can also be formed from the tiniest of things, even your commitment issues wouldn’t find a fault in. But trust me, you will know the difference between being irritated with a date or a partner and getting the ick.

So the question that is playing on everyone’s minds is, can I overcome the ick? It seems unlikely, which may not be what you wanted to hear, but on the positive side, it serves a purpose. Simply put it as a sign it’s perhaps not meant to be, something isn’t compatible. It’s the sign of a strong intuition telling you to get out. You may feel like the only thing you want to do is to block them on every social you gave and not deal with the situation, but you know that’s not right. Woman up, and tell them to their face, all the while letting them down easy.

After all, the likely innocent person isn’t at fault for not just being the one for you. Ghosting is never the answer, whether it’s been five minutes or five years, so be sound. Unfortunately, there’s no face mask or anti-bacterial gel to make sure you don’t get the ick again, but see it for what it is – an indication of something not being right – and get to the bottom of it before making any rash decisions. Godspeed.

Words by Alannah Hanley


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