The ick epidemic: Why are we being put off by people so easily and will we ever get past it?

By Bianca Borissova

Published Apr 11, 2023 at 12:29 PM

Reading time: 5 minutes

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I have a somewhat petty confession to make. Sometimes, I get ‘the ick’ when I see men I find attractive wearing backpacks.

Now, before you come for me, yes I am fully aware of how ridiculous this sounds. I completely acknowledge that I am the problem here, not them. Of course, I think men deserve to carry their things comfortably, I just would rather they do it in literally any bag except a backpack—especially if they’re planning on double strapping it. I’m sure that I am giving you the ick right now by confessing this, and honestly, I don’t blame you.

I don’t even know why backpacks make me feel this way. But I do remember the first time I noticed it. Years ago, I was on a date with a guy, and it was going well, or at least, as well as first dates can go. We were sat at the pub, drinking and chatting until it eventually became time to go.

As we started getting ready to leave, he put on his backpack, grabbed each strap with his hands, and then proceeded to pull them twice. I don’t know why, but that just turned my initial attraction into a feeling of disgust, and since then, I have not been able to grow out of it.

Is this absolutely ridiculous? Yes. Am I the only one to have ever gotten the ick over something so trivial? Absolutely not. On the contrary, we’re currently dealing with an ick epidemic.

What is the ick and why do we get it?

Earlier this year, TikTok creator Dafna Diamant shared a clip in which she was venting about an experience she had just had while on a first date with someone she met via Hinge. In the video, she explained that they went to a restaurant, and that the man she was meeting had ordered a burger. Then, when the waitress asked if he wanted cheese on his burger, Diamant’s date asked if he would have to pay extra for it, to which the waitress said yes, leading him to reply, “No thank you.”

Allegedly, after this, the mystery man went on to make a comment about how you “have to pay extra for everything these days,” which made Diamant get up, pay the full bill and walk out on him. She then texted him “the check is taken care of, you should have gotten the cheese” and blocked him on Hinge.

@dafna_diamant

It was $55 #datinglife #storytime #datinginyour20s #datinginnyc #icant

♬ original sound - Dafna

As of now, the video has received over 8 million views, thousands of comments and stitches, and a lot of controversy. As expected from the internet, in no time, opinions on the fairness of the situation began pouring in. “He dodged a bullet” reads one comment. “Is this why I’m single? Because I ain’t paying $3 for cheese” reads another. Some netizens agreed with the young woman, others praised her date for being “financially literate,” and in typical internet fashion, countless others ended up giving her a lot of hate.

Diamant has since revealed the story to be fake in an interview with NBC News, revealing that this was an interaction she and her date witnessed while at a restaurant, which happened to another couple sitting at a separate table. This sparked a conversation between Diamant and her own date about how they would personally deal with that kind of scenario.

“If I’m sitting on a date with a person and I feel like he’s cheaping out on something that will make his meal more enjoyable, he’s going to keep cheaping out on the rest of our dates,” the content creator told NBC News. “It’s not about the cheese. It’s about going to a restaurant and enjoying a good time with your date.”

What Diamant’s TikTok really did was start a conversation about the unrealistic dating standards we have set as a society, especially when it comes to lower millennials and gen Zers. In her original video, we witness her demonstrate what getting the ick is like in action—for something as simple as not wanting to pay extra for a slice of cheese. And Diamant is hardly an exception.

Can we get past the ick?

If you search for ‘the ick’ on TikTok, you will come across thousands of videos in which users share what gives them the ick. For some, it’s things like “someone chasing a piece of paper” when it’s windy, and failing to catch it because the wind keeps blowing it away. For others, it’s things like when guys “shiver.”

@joshua.robinson

♬ original sound - OSHU
@summerfox___

The wind was blowing the blanket away aswell #icks #girltalk

♬ original sound - Summer Fox

SCREENSHOT spoke to Jenna, a 26-year-old from the UK who shared that she gets the ick not from only one specific thing but from all of the following: when someone’s “middle name is John,” “when boys sing along to music,” “when guys get upset about not getting a job after they think they did really well in an interview,” and when her own boyfriend had to be “wheeled away on a hospital bed” after minor surgery related to his wisdom teeth.

On the other hand however, not everyone seems to believe in the somewhat fairly recent dating trend. Another person interviewed expressed, “I think the ick as a concept is so silly. There are worse things people do and it’s ridiculous that we latch onto things that are not actually annoying. It’s just a reason to complain about something.”

Other gen Zers agree. “I only have one ick, and it’s the idea of the ick itself,” said Jack, a 25-year-old living in London. “It’s something that gen Z does a lot. They take something that is just normal behaviour, and come up with another word in order to pick at it. The reason the ick has done so well, unfortunately, is because it’s short, snappy, and easy to TikTok about.”

Of course, it’s important to note that the conversations around the ick among gen Zers and millennials are often over-exaggerated for the sake of humour. We all get annoyed or turned off by different things, some small and unreasonable, others, less so, and not all of these necessarily lead to the demise of potential relationships, or situationships. But why is this something so prominent with those two generations specifically?

As highlighted by Jack, the concept of an ick is not necessarily a new thing. Essentially, it’s just a word used to describe a turn-off and the point when your attraction to someone suddenly turns to repulsion because of something they did.

Jo Nicholl, London-based couples counsellor, relationship therapist, and host of the Love Maps podcast told us that our current obsession with the ick can be explained by how “acutely aware of how others behave” we are. When we judge someone by pointing out the disgust they make us feel, we “externalise our own inner critic.”

“Shaming others is a way of deflecting from your own self-conscious vulnerability,” Nicholl concluded.

Gen Zers and millennials are also not the only two generations to have ever gotten the ick. When put in comparison to baby boomers as well as older generations, Raquel Peel, relationship expert, researcher and senior lecturer at RMIT University, stated: “The main difference I observed was in relation to ‘what’ types of attitudes and behaviours can trigger ‘the ick’. All generations have the same motivation to use ‘the ick’ as a self-protection strategy, regardless of what it is.”

When asked why getting the ick is so definitive in younger generations completely losing interest in a potential partner, Peel suggests that “this is because self-protection strategies such as ‘the ick’ are about validation. It can serve to validate someone’s fears of committing to a relationship—fear of intimacy, and fear of rejection, for instance.”

Fear of commitment and the ick often go hand in hand. While previous generations may have gotten the ick countless times, the dating landscape has changed significantly in recent decades. The introduction of dating apps and social media has led us to feel like our options are limitless—we have easier access to potential romantic or sexual encounters matched through an app than we do through face-to-face interactions.

This creates a false idea that people are disposable, and that there is always someone better out there, only a few swipes away. Someone who perhaps doesn’t shiver, someone who doesn’t cringe you out by singing along to songs, or someone who doesn’t wear backpacks. But perfection simply does not exist, so why do we still seek it?

Sure, maybe your grandmother could have gotten the ick when she met your grandfather, but unlike you, she didn’t have an opportunity to log onto a dating app and swipe away, having the option to choose a date from hundreds and hundreds of people. So, are we just being too picky, or have we become too desensitised to modern dating?

Sometimes, the ick is very reasonable. Say, if your date is being disrespectful or behaving inappropriately. Other times, we are definitely projecting our own insecurities, or using this new concept as a defence mechanism instead of facing our fear of commitment. And I won’t even mention the numerous instances in which we just exaggerate our feelings for the sake of a funny story, all in the name of some good online content.

So, what gives you the ick?

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