What Is 'The Ick' and Why Do We Get It?

If you've ever become suddenly grossed out by someone you're dating, you're not alone.

What Is the Ick and Why Do We Get It?
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I've been dating someone for a couple of weeks and was really into him. One day, he came out of the bathroom and I just looked at him and was revoluted. I found myself feeling repulsed, like I could never sleep with this person again. This is not the first time this has happened to me. What… is this? —Ick


What you're experiencing has become a cultural phenomenon. The term was first mentioned many years ago, on an episode of Sex and the City called "The Ick Factor" and most recently in an episode of Love Island when Leanne Amaning dumped Mike Boateng due to a case of 'The Icks.'

This tends to happen during the early stage of a dating relationship, after enjoying the company of and feeling attracted to the potential partner, suddenly, you find yourself disgusted or even revolted by said human. Maybe you become fixated on one aspect of their appearance you never noticed and can't let go of the feeling of revulsion.

You may have also heard it called Sudden Repulsion Syndrome. While it is not a clinical diagnosis in the DSM, it is common enough to get a shout-out in that other most-legitimate of diagnostic manuals, Urban Dictionary, which defines it as, "A condition many people experience after dating an individual for a short amount of time. The individual is probably polite, nice, and generally pleasant to be around, but one day, you suddenly find yourself disgusted by his or her appearance. You cannot ever see yourself establishing a physical relationship with this individual, and when you imagine it, you vomit in your mouth a little." Finally, it adds, you "end up feeling as though you must break it off immediately."

While we can joke about Urban Dictionary accurately describing a psychological phenomenon, I am not going to lie. I have been there. On a second date, I once became totally consumed and disgusted by this one open pore on a man's face. It looked like a tunnel. Where did it go? How did it get there? What was inside of it? Ick! Other times, you just can't put your finger on it. The thought of being naked with them just makes you feel like throwing up. That is The Ick. I have seen this take place many times throughout my years as a therapist. It's real, and it's a tough one.

It generally occurs for one of seven reasons. Here is what you need to know.

1. Fear of intimacy.

Sometimes a person starts to develop feelings for a person they are dating, and it scares the crap out of them. They feel vulnerable. They are afraid of getting hurt. When The Ick is due to a fear of intimacy, it often occurs around significant milestones. You're more likely to see this after a couple has slept together for the first time, when it comes time to move in together, when a couple is about to get engaged or has just become engaged, around a wedding, or even when a couple is starting to try to make a baby.

When it occurs in new, fast-moving relationships, it is more likely to feel random. That's when you have reached your intimacy-with-a-stranger threshold. You've gone too far too fast. In this case, 'The Ick Factor' is a defense against the pain or fear of rejection and therapy is needed. It is time to consult a professional to work through your fears of intimacy.

2. The relationship has moved too fast.

What happens in this situation is, one person gets out of the romantic fog induced by late nights making love and hot dates only to see the flawed individual in front of them in excruciating detail. Sometimes this is marked by the slow end of the honeymoon phase when you settle into a more serious relationship. If this is you, slow things down. Do a better job pacing the relationship. Give your heart the time to catch up.

3. You have ignored a bunch of signs that this is not the right person for you.

Maybe you're feeling external pressure to hurry up and get married, maybe you feel your biological clock ticking, and, in that desire to be in a committed relationship, you overlook too many things. When this happens, we eventually wake up and find ourselves turned off by the partner we've hitched our wagon to. It is healthy to be repelled by something that is bad for you. In this case, you want to pay attention to the warning signs and work on extricating yourself from the relationship.

4. You have different values.

I saw a lot of this around the last election. Two people are dating and are in the honeymoon stage where they only see all the ways they are alike ("You like pizza too? We are so perfect for each other!"). Everyone is still on good behavior and oftentimes avoiding hot topics like religion and politics. Then they have a date where shit gets real and discover that the other person has some widely divergent view. You are a vegan and he is a hunter. You are a Republican and she is a Democrat. You don't believe in premarital sex and he can't wait to get it on. When you suddenly see this person for who they are, the bubble has burst and it makes you sick — aka The Ick. You thought you were totally aligned and suddenly you realize you don't see eye to eye on core values. If this is you, it is time to do some soul searching. Plenty of couples have differing views on key issues, but you have to figure out what works for you.

5. Your unconscious is picking up on something.

Sometimes we just have a gut feeling that we cannot overlook, even if we can't pinpoint what it is. Some experts say that our unconscious mind picks up on thousands of different clues and cues that warn us about danger. Sometimes we don't know what it is, we just have a visceral reaction. It is very important to pay attention in these situations. Always trust your gut.

6. It is a sign of unresolved trauma.

Nausea or revulsion is a very common sign of trauma. Sometimes a person can wear a scent that triggers a memory, performs a gesture that brings back a traumatic event, or does a sex act that can trigger a flashback. Sometimes you don't even know that it is occurring, you just have a response that makes you want to run. This type of Ick is less about the person in front of you and more about your unresolved history of some type of abuse or assault. This needs the help of a professional in order for you to be able to have a successful relationship.

7. They are reading you wrong.

Sometimes a person just doesn't get you. They miss your cues, read you wrong, and miss the mark. This misread can make you cranky, annoyed, and repulsed. The first thing you want to do is to ask yourself if you have communicated clearly what your needs are with this person. Are you providing them with enough information for them to be a good potential partner to you? Don't assume that someone should "just know" if it is a good match. We have to train people how to treat us and give them the instruction manual in order for them to know how to make us happy and turn us on. If you have repeatedly provided this information but this person keeps missing the mark, it is not a match and it is time to move on.

The Bottom Line On 'The Ick'

Keep in mind, self-awareness and a willingness to look at your own issues is the key to fighting The Ick. Being aware of your reservations when it comes to moving forward in relationships, your triggers, or the hot buttons that usually make you want to eject yourself from a dating scenario will help. It's also good to be honest with yourself about your family history and how it impacts you and your ability to have a relationship. Basically, taking a good, hard look at yourself is the best way to prevent suddenly being revolted by the (probably super nice!) person before you.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.

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