Alex Barton

Have you ever had ‘The Ick’?

Have you ever had 'The Ick'?
Love Island (ITV)
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You’re in a bar, on a date and it’s Saturday night. The lighting is low, the music is good and the drinks are flowing. Your opposite number is everything you thought they would be: intelligent, interesting and attractive. The conversation is easy and the evening looks promising. You start to think this one might be special. 

But then you hear their laugh for the first time - it’s a grating string of huh-huh-huh’s - and it's all over. The attraction flips to disgust and, try as you might, you can’t look at them in the same way. It’s the moment you anticipate but never hope for…It’s the ick.

Last week Keir Starmer cracked a cringeworthy Love Island joke in the Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions. The Labour leader said 'contestants that give the public the ick get booted out' and suggested either the public or the party do the same to Boris Johnson.

The joke was met with groans from his side of the house despite whips telling MPs to laugh at his cultural quips. A party insider told The Sunday Times: 'They were encouraged to show appreciation for the joke they preferred.' You have to feel for Keir Starmer; in trying to appear on trend, he became the living embodiment of 'the ick’.

The ick is a modern dating phenomenon where an attraction to a current or potential mate morphs into revulsion upon discovering an off-putting mannerism or habit. It can be triggered by anything but is instant, primal and violent. If you believe today's daters, once an ick is in play, the relationship is doomed. 

Being rude to a waiter is a classic ick, but often they are far more niche - something seemingly innocuous that makes your skin crawl. 

The term first arose as long ago as 1967, although not in a dating context. It meant a phrase 'used to express disgust at something unpleasant or offensive' - like a foul smell or nasty texture. It is probably derived from the earlier adjective 'icky' - a 1930s jazz term used by swing lovers to describe more saccharine or sentimental jazz music, which later came to mean 'sticky or repulsive’. 

But 'The Ick' gained its iconic status during the third series of Love Island in 2017 when contestant Olivia Atwood said: 'When you’ve seen a boy and got the ick, it doesn’t go. It’s caught you and it’s taken over your body. It’s just ick. I can’t shake it off.’

Many have turned to TikTok to share their icks and the hashtag now has more than 959 million views on the app. Icks aren’t to be confused with red flags, which are warning signs you wilfully ignore because you like someone. But there is a fine line between the two. 

It’s any jarring behaviour that puts you off your date for good. Pushing a pull door, incorrectly guessing your date's order in a restaurant, cracking a joke no one listens to, eating too loudly, eating off a paper plate, skinny jeans, Crocs and saying the word 'bossman' all came up in a snap survey of 20-somethings for this article.

Icks range from silly or embarrassing scenarios to niche hygiene preferences like not rinsing a toothbrush before and after applying toothpaste. 

But shouldn't we call time on 'The Ick'? A politician uttering the phrase at the dispatch box is a surefire sign that it has reached its cultural apogee. And the everyday reality of relationships should teach us to handle it with caution. In a world where singletons no longer meet through friends, work or hobbies, but on Tinder, Bumble and Badoo, it’s easy to discard someone when, underneath their filtered, flawless profile, we discover an actual human.

As many daters have found, you can run from relationship to relationship because the other person doesn’t tick all your boxes. In our throwaway culture, it's easy come, easy go. Dates can be lined up as swiftly as an Uber, or an Amazon delivery. Why tolerate a person’s faults when you're only a few taps away from endless opportunities with countless others?

Hopefully they don’t give you the ick too.