The Ick’: When Attraction Dies In An Instant

Is this phenomenon worsening in today’s world?

“You THINK you like them but then you suddenly catch ‘The Ick’. From then on you can’t look at the person in the same way.”

As described by Urban Dictionary

The toenails… I just couldn’t get past the toenails. They had varnish on them that looked like it was a month old. Chipped, worn-looking, a dirty undefinable colour, and in that instant the thought that she doesn’t wash flooded my mind. We had been on a few dates and that was the first time we had been naked together. She was cool, we got along, but the thought of her being unwashed was something I couldn’t rid from my mind. The next morning she had to go to work, I asked if she wanted to use my shower, she said she didn’t need to. This increased the hygiene gap between us ever more so. The ick was firmly supplanted and it wouldn’t leave. I dropped her to work that morning and gave her a kiss as she stepped out of my car, knowing that it would be the last kiss.

I was disappointed — truly. I liked her and would have enjoyed spending more time with her, but what could I do? My physical attraction for her vanished in a perilous instant. Perhaps this was a symptom of my age, being in my early twenties I think I know exactly what I want and deviations from this archetype are easily dismissed. Poor hygiene is a big variation and one of the more understandable ones. Or is it more a symptom of this day and age? Are people, in general, more easily dismissed? Not just archetypes.

My housemate came in the door recently confessing about a date,

“Her accent, I got the ick straight away, I just couldn’t get past it.”

Granted, it was a first date with someone he met online, so feeling an immediate sense of ick is understandable if you haven’t even met the person before. But it’s the ick that occurs after a few dates that fascinates me, the switch from attraction to nothing in the blink of an eye. I have attempted to battle through it before but never to any avail, once it sets in it seems impossible to revert.

“Trust your feelings, if the ick sticks around… that’s a sign that something deeper is going on.”

Dr. Ish Major speaking on The Doctors in 2020.

I often wonder if there’s a direct conflation between this new ick-TikTok-colloquialism and our recent obsession with dating apps and hookup culture. Could it be that this ick phenomenon is being accentuated by the fact that single people nowadays scroll through prospective partners like they’re flicking through a deck of cards? If you get a duff hand, you fold and wait for another hand — it’s become that easy.

The humanity of intimate interactions is being eroded away more and more. Giving someone leeway is almost outdated. When you’ve flicked through tens of thousands of faces online and judged them in an instant over a slight misdemeanour that exists in your head, surely this ability to cancel someone out carries over into everyday life, person-to-person interactions. Are we funnelling our likes and tastes into distilled expectations and if they aren’t met with — game over. The problem here is if you continue down this road, where you consistently reinforce these high standards for yourself, very soon you will have no one left, no one you meet will be good enough, the ick will be seen in people seconds after you meet them, and the only ones deemed worthy enough will be the ones safely out of your reach — the ones who haven’t been given a chance to show their ick.

Is it beneficial to keep people perpetually single? Is the ick a commodity that suits dating app companies? When the ick sets in and you’ve given up on your last date for their bad breath or whatever, isn’t it a cosy comfort to know that there’s a dating app waiting to be downloaded and thousands of faces to flick through again? The store never closes on the single life. Much like the casino, just keep banging that slot machine lever.

According to Psychologist Willem van den Berg of Vision Psychology Brisbane,

“The positive reinforcement of a “match” gives you a small hit of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that ensures survival needs like food and sex are met.”

What if the dopamine hit of meeting new matches becomes so favourable and comforting that the risk of committing to someone beyond a few dates is outgunned every time.

The fact that ‘the ick’ has become common parlance is a strange and worrying sign. It’s like the word ‘podcast,’ it didn’t exist until it was needed. Now we have a word that describes the instantaneous death of attraction, perhaps that word was never needed en masse the way it’s needed today.

I’ve tried to write about this topic in the past and received some comments from people who related, but also some people who misunderstood and found what I was saying to be appalling. It was published in Sexography and further distributed if you care to read.