• Have you ever felt inexplicably repulsed by your partner?
  • Did you fall in love with your partner’s little eccentricities but now find yourself cringing at their annoying habits?
  • If so, it’s likely you’ve fallen victim to the dreaded ‘ick’

If you’ve dabbled in the world of modern dating, you’ve likely heard of ‘the ick.’ Coined by Love Island contestant Olivia Attwood back in 2017, the ick describes the ‘icky’ feeling that can randomly develop while seeing someone. “When you’ve seen a boy, and got the ick, it doesn’t go,” she said on the show. “It’s caught you, and it’s taken over your body. It’s just ick.”

The term has gone mainstream since Attwood used it on the popular ITV show, with dating experts now acknowledging the ick as a common phenomenon. “‘The ick’ is a dating term that means you get a sudden cringe feeling when you have romantic contact with someone: and become almost immediately put off by them,” explains dating expert Hayley Quinn in Cosmopolitan.

Perhaps your partner has done something particularly cringeworthy which has turned you right off; perhaps you’ve suddenly noticed they look uncannily like your ex when they laugh; perhaps they’ve done nothing at all, but you can’t help but wince whenever they open their mouth. Whatever the reason – when you’ve got the ick, you’ll know you’ve got the ick.

How long does it take to catch the ick?

There’s no hard and fast rule about how long it’ll take for the ick to catch up with you. Writing in Grazia, journalists Daisy Buchanan and Georgia Aspinall hypothesise that “you rarely encounter [the ick] on a first or second date […] it usually comes up when you’ve spent enough time with someone to start to see a future with them.”

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However, Quinn contends that “sometimes ‘the ick’ is nearly instant: you go on a few dates with someone who is doing all the right things but you just can’t shake that feeling of wanting to physically recoil when they come closer.”

Gurpreet Singh, relationship counsellor and psychotherapist at Relate, tells Cosmopolitan more definitively that the ick will always occur in a relationship’s early stages – be it within the first three weeks or the first three months. Any later than that, he says, and it’s “more indicative of just drifting apart.”

How do you know if you’ve got the ick?

You’ll just know when you’ve got the ick. It’s a gut feeling and impossible to miss. You might be watching your partner sleep and suddenly feel put off by the way they’re breathing through their mouth. You might be having dinner with them and instantly recoil at the way they hold a knife and fork. Famously, the ick develops over the trivial stuff; if you’re getting annoyed at your partner for never cleaning up after themselves, that’s fair dos, but that wouldn’t be classed as getting the ick. The ick is notoriously inexplicable.

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Quinn explains to Cosmopolitan how to tell if you’ve got the ick: “You will find yourself justifying why you should keep seeing someone, telling yourself ‘but they’re so nice!’, when your gut instinct is telling you you’re just not feeling it.”

“It can happen when you know someone likes you, you recognise that they have good qualities, and you really want a relationship… but you feel like you’re trying to force yourself to feel something you don’t,” she says.

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Speaking to Refinery29, behavioural psychologist and dating coach Jo Hemmings adds that it’s worth questioning if it’s really the ick or if you’re just having a bad day. “Sometimes it could be because you’re feeling a bit down or tired so you’re reacting to a number of things in life,” she says. “You’re not at your best and anything could be an irritant, and that in itself is more down to you. But if it’s something you used to find attractive or that didn’t matter enough to notice, I think you [should] ask yourself, What is this about and are there other things, or perhaps other concerns, in my relationship?”

Why do people get the ick?

Because the ick is so irrational, it can be confusing if it happens to you – especially if, on paper, it seems as though there’s nothing wrong with your partner at all. So why does it happen?

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“Often people undervalue the amount of unconscious communication that happens in a relationship,” Singh tells Cosmopolitan. “Our responses to somebody’s smell, behaviour or value systems can largely be unconscious, and the ick usually comes from that unconscious gut reaction.”

Lara Asprey, founder of matchmaking organisation Asprey Introductions, adds that the ick often arises after idealising a partner too much. “It all comes down to how we can form a preconceived notion of someone and establish in our psyche an identity before we know who they really are,” she explains. “We therefore build people up before they have had the chance to prove themselves and then get wholly disappointed when they don’t fit into the image we built them up to be in our minds.”

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It makes sense – in the first few happy days of a relationship, you’ll be seeing your partner through rose-tinted specs, and it’s likely you’ll ignore their less-than-perfect habits. Even the most cynical and realistic of us often can’t help but romanticise our partners. So it makes sense that the ick generally settles in once the initial ‘honeymoon period’ has ended and you begin to notice more of your partner’s flaws.

Should you dump someone if you get the ick?

Ultimately, everyone has flaws. Nobody’s perfect. The onus is on you to acknowledge when you’re romanticising every little thing your partner does and holding them to impossibly high standards, not on them to change fundamental parts of their character. It’s normal to be surprised – and even disgusted (sorry, but humans are fundamentally disgusting) – by some of your partner’s actions if you’re only just noticing them for the first time – and this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to call your relationship quits.

Still, as dating experts often like to point out, it is always worth listening to your gut.

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If you truly think you’re starting to find your partner repugnant – to the point where you can’t bear to hear them speak or have them touch you – it’s worth starting a dialogue with them. “If you feel the ick, give it some time to think about whether you could put up with their behaviour long-term,” Singh tells Cosmopolitan. “However, if you can’t even tolerate them touching your hand then it’s not something you can continue to put up with. Ultimately, you shouldn’t ignore it. The ick is a gut reaction, and usually the best thing is to trust your gut.”

Shannon Smith, dating and relationship expert at Plenty of Fish, agrees. Speaking to The Independent, she says: “it’s important to carefully assess where the feeling is coming from. If the source of ‘the ick’ isn’t something you could get past, then it’s time to have an honest conversation with your partner, airing your concerns in a tactical manner.”

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Ultimately, there’s no clear cut rule on whether or not you should dump someone if you’ve caught the ick. You’ll likely need to do some soul-searching and have one (or more) difficult conversations with your partner before coming to a decision. Importantly, you’ll need to ask yourself: am I self-sabotaging something good here by imagining problems that aren’t there, or am I expressing frustration over inconsequential things when really, I’m frustrated with the relationship itself?