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“The ick”, much discussed on TikTok and Instagram lately, is where attraction to a current or potential
partner is suddenly flipped to a feeling of disgust.
It’s often triggered in an instant, social media users say, by witnessing some kind of turn-off – a bad
dance move, a grating laugh, or an off-putting eating style.
So what might be behind “the ick”?
Are you letting ‘the ick’ undermine your chances in love?
One possibility is this is a self-defensive mechanism or strategy to protect against relationship failure, fear of
commitment, fear of intimacy, or rejection sensitivity.
Models of relationship counselling practice explain attraction is a “flip flop” phenomenon, where the thing that attracts you to someone today can
be the same thing that repulses you tomorrow.
While the “flip” are the positives and the “flop” are the negatives, they often are
side-by-side characteristics that cannot exist without the other. For example, if what you love about a person is
their crazy sense of humour, you might need to accept their loud, weird laugh is part of the same package.
Different meanings can be assigned to these characteristics as the relationship progresses and depending on life
circumstances. For instance, someone you initially found to be “carefree” can turn out to be
“irresponsible” in important situations. Someone you originally found to be “decisive” might
seem “controlling” later on.
Most of us want to feel safe with a partner, to trust them, have open communication, and share interests. But if an
unexpected behaviour is suddenly turning you off, ask yourself what might be happening for you; their behaviour
might have triggered a long-term unresolved issue for you or it might reflect a difficulty you’re having
coping with life stressors. Reactions that may seem “out of the blue” often have an explanation that
Humans are innately driven to seek proximity and
security. But if we feel threatened or confronted, we might look for ways to distance ourselves out of a
drive for self-protection.
But if you suddenly get “the ick”, don’t act too rashly. Ask yourself if this is part of a pattern
of holding back in relationships (knowingly or unknowingly) and in turn undermining your chances in love.
A trigger to move on
In my research, I have seen people move quickly from one relationship to the next looking for
something specific (and, most of the time, unrealistic). A “trigger” to move on can be anything such as
bad fashion sense, bad taste in music, or a “childish nickname”.
One participant in my research would go on Tinder dates, and while at the date, be actively looking for other options
around her, in case there was something better. Dating apps such as Tinder offer us such an astonishing number of
possibilities, some may be asking themselves: “Why should I settle? Why can’t I aim for that perfect
Research has found fixed beliefs in “destiny” – in other words, a belief
that relationships are either “meant to be” or they are not – can see people fail in the search
Instead, we should be adopting a more flexible view of growth – that is, see a relationship as something that
can grow and change, and problems as something that can be overcome together.
Adopting a growth belief can help us get to know the people we are dating and develop a synergy that will guide the
relationship beyond the initial attraction, or “honeymoon stage”.
Examining ‘the ick’ in the moment
If you get hit with “the ick”, stop and think about what’s happening.
Are we protecting ourselves because we’ve just witnessed a red flag suggesting they are just not the right
partner for us? “The ick” isn’t always triggered by tiny things; it could be red flag behaviours
like being rude to waitstaff, or constantly talking over you.
Or are we getting “the ick” because we’re engaging in self-sabotage and, in turn, undermining our
chances of a successful intimate engagement?
This process does take insight, but it is worth the exploration.
Dr Raquel Peel is a lecturer in Psychology at the University of Southern Queensland.