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The Ick Comes for Us All, Okay?

Let me set the scene: It’s a Friday night and you’re at a trendy new bar with this guy you’ve recently started hooking up with. The chemistry is electric. You don’t know what it is or how it happened, but you simply cannot get enough of this man. Sitting across from him right now, a mere 10 minutes into your date, you’re doing everything in your power not to jump his goddamn bones. And then…wait, did he just order an orange juice? At a bar? At 10 p.m.? Suddenly your boner (real or metaphorical) deflates, the rose-colored glasses come off, and you realize it’s happened: You’ve caught The Ick.

Yes, this is a real story from my real life. (And before you come for me: No, he wasn’t sober. He just ordered orange juice on the side of his cocktail instead of water—which is weird!) But even if you haven’t experienced this exact situation, you know what I’m talking about. Why? Because catching the ick is a pretty universal experience, something we all go through at one time or another. And frankly, it’s lowkey kind of devastating. But what exactly *is* the ick? So glad you asked.

“The ick in dating refers to a sudden, intense feeling of repulsion or disgust toward a romantic partner or potential partner, often triggered by a specific action, behavior, or trait that one finds unattractive or off-putting,” says dating coach Natacha Noël, a New York City–based matchmaker. Basically, it’s that feeling you get when you’re super into someone and then suddenly, you’re not—often for no particular rhyme or reason. The ick can happen at any time, any place, and for any reason—often a seemingly random or illogical one, which is part of what makes it so frustrating.

So, when and why does the ick happen? What causes it? And, most importantly, is the ick a relationship death sentence? Here’s everything you need to know about this pesky little vibe-killer.

Okay, So What Is the Ick?

Reportedly coined by the ’90s TV series Ally McBeal and more recently popularized (where else?) on TikTok, “‘The ick’ is a term used to describe a feeling that happens in the dating process when you notice yourself suddenly not attracted to someone,” explains psychotherapist Christie Kederian, EdD, a relationship coach and therapist.

The ick can be pretty much anything that makes you second-guess your attraction to someone you thought you were into. But often, it’s a totally random act, behavior, or personality trait that suddenly strikes you as a turn-off, like ordering orange juice at a bar, the way someone laughs, clears their throat, etc.

“It’s that disgust you suddenly feel for someone that totally turns you off,” says matchmaker Susan Trombetti, CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. “It can be the way they act, such as talking baby talk to you, the way they smell, or even something unconscious you can’t put your finger on. You just find yourself put off and sometimes there is no real rhyme or reason to it.”

When Do You Catch the Ick?

Unfortunately, the ick can strike at any time, for any reason. (So! Sorry!) However, Trombetti says that the ick often rears its icky head toward the beginning of most relationships (or potential ones).

“It can happen at any time, but it’s usually in the earlier stages of relationships. Maybe you make out at a bar with a guy, you go back home, you see his filthy place or his too neat place, and you are just turned off,” she explains.

While the ick is often a sudden, random occurrence, Noël notes that it might also “develop over time as you notice behaviors or traits that you find off-putting.”

So, yeah, you’re pretty much never safe (again, apologies). But traditionally, you’re probably more likely to catch the ick at the beginning of a relationship, which…might be kind of an upside?

What Causes the Ick?

I mean, literally anything. A big part of the reason the ick is even a thing is that while it’s a pretty universal feeling, it’s usually such a specific, seemingly random action/trait/behavior that triggers it for any given ick-victim (ick-tim?).

“The ick is highly personal and can vary widely from person to person, with what triggers the ick for one individual possibly having no effect on another,” says Noël. “The feeling of repulsion can be irrational and might not necessarily be based on any logical reasoning.”

Trombetti adds that what triggers the ick is often “something that you aren’t even aware of. It’s not even something you can qualify and define a lot of the time.”

So...okay, great? Now you’re turned off by someone you were previously super into and don’t even know why? Yeah, sorry, that’s kind of the way it goes sometimes.

But! If you’re looking for some more solid reasoning, there are some ~scientific~ reasons the ick might strike—especially if you’ve caught it later in the game. According to Kederian, the ick is sometimes the (sadly) natural result of, well, simply getting to know someone better.

“There are different theories of what causes the ick, but it’s most likely caused by a decrease in the initial hormones and neurochemicals that cause attraction in the first place,” she explains. “Once we’re out of the ‘honeymoon’ phase and the dopamine drops, we may realize that this person isn’t perfect and their flaws and weird mannerisms and things you may have previously found unique and endearing now feel gross or unattractive.”

As we’ve all become fond of advising each other on the internet: If you want to get over a guy, just get to know him.

Is the Ick the Same as a Red Flag?

So here’s the tricky thing. While, yeah, it may be tempting to look at whatever gave you the ick as an early warning sign that this thing you had brewing in the romance department was definitely *not* going to work out, an initial icky turn-off is not necessarily a deal-breaker.

“It’s vital to distinguish between minor ‘icks’ (e.g., annoying habits) and genuine red flags (e.g., disrespect, manipulation),” says Noël. “While ‘icks’ can often be navigated or discussed, red flags should be taken as serious indicators of a relationship's viability. Not all ‘icks’ are worth ending a relationship over.”

As Trombetti points out, the ick often has more to do with you and your own preferences and proclivities than anything the other person is actually putting out.

It also depends on what you want out of a given relationship. If you’re just looking to hook up with someone you’re off-the-charts horny for and catch the ick, then there’s really no reason to not walk away. On to the next one, baby! But if you think this person may have real, capital-R Relationship potential, it may be worth sticking around to see if these icks are just temporary speed bumps or genuine nonnegotiables.

Which brings us to…!

Can You Come Back From the Ick Once You’ve Caught It?

Listen, the ick is not necessarily a death sentence—especially if they happen early on in a relationship.

“If you get to know someone as a whole person, things that may have caused an initial ‘ick’ will eventually melt away because your connection and love for a person overrides those things,” says Kederian. “If it doesn’t go away, it’s likely the relationship is built over physical attraction only and probably isn’t the best fit for you.”

And while Trombetti notes that it’s sometimes worth taking icks as an early warning sign that keeps us from diving into potentially bad or unhealthy situations, if you find yourself ditching relationship after relationship as soon as you catch the first whiff of an ick, it may be worth asking yourself whether you’re just looking for an excuse to get out.

Again, it’s crucial not to conflate icks with genuine red flags. If something seems dangerous, unhealthy, or otherwise not aligned with what you want out of a partner, by all means, get TF out. But if, upon reflection, the thing that’s got you all icked out is some harmlessly quirky behavior that you could see yourself growing to love (or at least overlook!) it may be worth sticking around for a sec. Take it from me, someone who did, in fact, go on to have lots of genuinely fabulous sex with Mr. OJ.

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