Is the ick a harmless quirk or a relationship deal-breaker?

It may be a hot trend on TikTok, but should you hit eject on a romantic relationship just because you got the ick? We asked the experts.

Just when you hit your stride in a relationship, or love starts to bloom, your partner does something that makes you cringe or turns you off – maybe they slurp their noodles, take a clumsy fall in public, or wear shoes you really hate.

One minute you’re infatuated, then poof, you get “the ick”.

But what does that really mean?

And is the ick a relationship red flag, or is it a harmless quirk you can learn to live with?

Here’s what the experts say.

What exactly does ‘the ick’ mean?

Bumble’s resident sexologist Chantelle Otten says “the ick” is a random habit, behaviour or trait in a romantic partner that can inexplicably (and often unreasonably) put you off.

“An ick is a negative feeling or, at the extreme end, a visceral reaction towards something or someone,” Chantelle says.

“The term ‘ick’ has been around for a while now, and it continues to maintain relevance thanks to pop culture and TikTok.”

The TikTok hashtag #ick has hit more than 180,000 posts and 5.5 billion views, with Gen Z in particular sharing any ick they’ve “caught”.

Are there different types of ick?

“Some icks can be physical or surface level, for example the choice of a pair of shoes or a certain haircut,” Chantelle says.

“Other icks are deeper, relating to core values or political beliefs.”

They’re also largely subjective, according to dating expert Holly Bartter.

“An ‘ick’ to me is so contextual – you can be in the early days of dating and they might do or say something that you perceive as an ick,” HoIly, founder of online dating service Matchsmith, says.

“It might set your teeth on edge, make you cringe – externally or internally – or be embarrassed on their behalf.”

An ick could even be something your partner can’t help doing, and it might feel unfair to blame them.

“It may not even be something obvious like poor table manners… I’ve seen examples of TikTok creators talking about seeing their partner scurry after a runaway ball or similar and getting the ick,” Holly says.

Is the ick a relationship deal-breaker?

While an ick might seem frivolous or harmless at first, Chantelle warns it could be a red flag in disguise.

“Although some icks can be on the sillier and surface-level side, such as a potential partner’s taste in music, icks can also be a trigger for potential yellow or even red flags,” she says.

It may also be a reflection of you and your attachment style.

“Avoidant attachment styles may be predisposed to experiencing more icks as a method of self-protection,” Chantelle says.

If you’re experiencing a regular pattern of getting the ick from potential partners, it might be worthwhile to pause and question if you could be self-sabotaging your relationships, she adds.

An ick can also highlight compatibility issues in a relationship, especially in the early days.

Holly says it can show whether you’re genuinely interested in your romantic partner, or whether the two of you simply aren’t as compatible as you’d initially thought.

How to deal with the ick

Tempted to talk to your partner about the ick?

Holly recommends proceeding with caution.

“Always consider the golden rule: treat others as you wish to be treated,” she says.

“If you are open to feedback and potential criticism, even about minor things, then you might feel comfortable; but if it truly is minor, be mindful of the impact your words can have.”

Remember, choose your battles wisely. (Does your partner really need to know how you feel about that new haircut?)

“All relationships will have elements of conflicting ideas and emotions,” Holly says.

“By picking up (on) every ick and sharing them with your partner, you’re not likely to create a trusting dynamic; instead, (you’re creating) one where your partner feels they are being micromanaged.”

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Written by Hayley Hinze.