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I asked my exes when they felt ‘the ick’ for me to see if I can avoid it in the future

IMAGE VIA Ben Ilobuchi

WORDS BY Ben Ilobuchi

Unpacking ‘the ick’.

You’re sitting at dinner with your date, the wine is sparkling, the conversation is too, and the warmth of romantic excitement is washing over you both. After all those failed ‘hang-outs’ and hook-ups, you think you might have actually found someone worth your time. Then it happens.

They do that one thing, something they probably didn’t even notice that they did, and any sort of attraction you had to them is lost. Maybe they didn’t eat their broccoli or tried out their poorly learned French on the waiter, but regardless of what it was, they removed any chance of you seeing them again. What you’ve just experienced is ‘the ick’.


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‘The ick’ describes that ephemeral, sinking feeling that occurs, often in the early parts of a relationship, when someone you once found attractive does one single innocuous thing that makes your skin crawl. It often signals death to any of the mystery they once held and removal from the pedestal you had placed them on.

You’ve probably felt it for someone, and chances are someone has felt it for you. To paint a picture of the phenomenon, I asked a few of my friends about the times they’ve felt the ick. I also kept it anonymous as some of these are a little shallow (by the author’s admission). Here’s what they had to say.


“I got the ‘ick’ from a guy when I saw he was reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. Any self-help book is pretty icky.”  R

“Getting excited during a video-game whilst communicating locations and stuff to his friends on Discord.” L

“Wiping his fingers on his sheets after eating take-out was a pretty grim one.” Q

“I got a number off this woman on Hinge, and when I gave her my number she said ‘Mmm those are some fine-looking numbers you’ve got there’.”  V

“Poor spelling and grammar is a big ick for me. One of the biggest ones I ran into on dating apps especially.”  U

“This is so mean but one time a guy looked into my eyes and said I was beautiful and it gave me the ick.” O

“He’d always wear jeans that were really long and bunched up around his ankles and one day I said that I loved when guys rolled up their pants at the bottom. The next time I saw him his jeans were rolled up. Not sure why but it gave me the ick.”  H

“I found the ‘flow poetry’ Instagram page of a guy I was talking to and it was so bad that I decided not to go on a date with him. I feel so mean for it.”  V


Now, if you read any of those and they sound like something you would do or have done, don’t feel bad and don’t feel down on yourself. Everyone is capable of being icky. And to prove that, I also asked a few former flames of mine for the exact moments they felt the ick about yours truly.

Yes, even the most charismatic and handsome among us are able to provoke disgust. Fair warning, these are quite embarrassing. No one can say I don’t suffer for my art.

2017 was a very different time style-wise in my defence. I think a Jansport backpack was an appropriate accessory for a university student to wear.

It was a funny joke.

It was 1984 by George Orwell which I think is an ick in and of itself, but I wasn’t enjoying it which explains why I was reading so slowly.

This one is self-explanatory.

After reading all this you might be asking yourself how you can stop feeling the ick for someone who was otherwise great, or how to avoid giving it to someone you like. The pure and simple answer to both those questions is that you can’t. The ick is an elusive and transitory feeling that is impossible to pin down.

Avoiding giving someone the ick by trying to not chew as loud, might give them the ick because you eat weird. Trying to avoid feeling the ick about someone’s teeth by looking at their eyebrows might make you realise you don’t like those either. This is all because the true root of the ick is incompatibility.

Someone who truly likes you doesn’t feel the ick for anything you do. Or if they do, they’re able to surmount it. Icks are just signs that you’re human; a living, breathing, fallible human. If someone realising that you’re a real person ruins the relationship, then it wasn’t meant to be. At least that’s what I try to tell myself because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Jansport.

You can follow Ben here and here.

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