‘The ick’ can be more than a gut feeling in relationships

By Mariah Bennett | Staff Writer

When men take selfies, chase a ping pong ball, dislike coffee and tea or comment on a famous model’s social media post, there’s a running theme. These are examples I’ve heard, online and in real life, of “the ick” — a feeling of disgust toward a previously attractive partner or potential partner. The previous icks are from women who are attracted to men. However, “the ick” can be felt by either gender. And when further examined, “the ick” says more about the values of the disgusted than the disgusting. It is OK to have this feeling, but it should be handled respectfully to avoid becoming “icky.”

To be clear, “the ick” and relationship deal-breakers are two different things. According to psychologist Dr. Becky Spelmen, the ick is “the sudden onset of the feeling that a person to whom one was previously attracted is suddenly unattractive to the point where physical contact seems revolting.” A deal-breaker is “a trait in a romantic partner that outweighs any positive attributes they have.” Deal-breakers are much more serious and universal than an ick.

A deal-breaker is something someone can’t put up with in a relationship, such as poor hygiene, infidelity, selfishness and extremely different values. In some cases, an ick such as dirty fingernails may fall under poor hygiene and turn into a deal-breaker. One difference with deal-breakers is how easy it is to see what it reveals about a person. They can show that you care about your hygiene, that you have self respect or that you prioritize your values. In cases where “the ick” is a trait, the same can be said about those values.

But sometimes, “the ick” comes out of nowhere at all, with no obvious cause. In my opinion, this can be a sign that you were not that attracted to the “icky” party in the first place. Or new traits that you’ve learned about them have slowly, but unconsciously, led you to “the ick.” According to Spelman, the ick can be caused by the “unconscious mind reacting to some fundamental incompatibilities between us and the person.”

On a daily basis, silly things such as a man chasing a ping pong ball usually don’t break a relationship of any sort, but the ick has been a player in failed relationships. If you have “the ick,” what matters is examining why you are feeling this way and reacting properly and respectfully. A person can’t help that they like a band you find cringey. If music is something you value in that regard, that is OK. Just handle the “icky” as they are: a human who is different from you.