The concept of getting “the ick”, that much-memed and most contentious feeling of general cringe or disgust towards both serious and potential partners, isn’t a new one by any means.
In fact, THE FACE covered the topic in all its nuanced glory just last week, concluding that, beyond absurdly fun viral tweets and Love Island theatrics, contemplating dumping someone over things such as owning a printer or saying “holibobs” instead of holidays, however ick-worthy, might be hurting our love lives more than anything else. Not to mention that equating the breakdown of a relationship with simply “getting the ick” could also reveal a certain level of immaturity in those involved. It’s all about communication, people.
All that being said, it might also be worth considering a different aspect of this phenomenon: that much of the online debate surrounding the ick and all its baggage often comes from straight women, as a pushback against, well, straight men. The term itself was coined in 2017 by Olivia Atwood, a contestant on the aforementioned Love Island, using it to describe her abstract, fading attraction for onscreen partner Sam Gowland. “When you’ve seen a boy and got the ick, it doesn’t go,” she said. “It’s caught you and it’s taken over your body. It’s just ick. I can’t shake it off.”
Although it has been powerfully deployed in the realm of British reality dating shows for a few years, in 2022, the discourse surrounding the ick re-entered public consciousness via TikTok – or should we say IckTok? – and this time, it went global. A new trend was ignited, whereby women the world over posted quickfire videos to the platform about their own personal icks. Rest assured they ran the gamut, from men wearing jeans tighter than theirs or riding electric scooters to taking selfies and then some. At the time of writing, #ick has over 704 million views on TikTok. Looks like catching feelings is a thing of the past. Now, for the sake of social media cachet, at least, it’s all about catching the ick.
While women pointing out these kinds of icks is objectively funny and fairly harmless, it also begs the question: do straight men get the ick? And if so, what exactly ticks their ick boxes?
Well, around the same time women rushed to share things they found particularly icky online, a legion of men rose up and bit back… Hard.
Bob, one half of couple’s TikTok account @sarahandbob241, has his own gripes when it comes to “modern day girls” – his words, not ours. “Social media,” he says, when pressed by his girlfriend Sarah. If a girl comments “baddie” or “queen” under a female friend’s Instagram picture, then consider Bob’s ick threshold reached. “Or when girls say, ‘Here she is!’ Where the fuck’s she been?! She’s not been anywhere!” he continues, visibly irked – sorry, icked.
In another video posted by @davetheotherguy, he and his mate Aaron give a similarly detailed account of ick-worthy things women do. Beyond the typical “too much make-up” (yes, we’re still having that debate), they also cited “when a girl puts her boyfriend’s name or initials and their anniversary in their bio”. We’ll give them that one.
The male ick is also alive and well outside of its dedicated TikTok corner. “Fila Disruptors give me the ick,” says 25-year-old Ben, who doesn’t use the platform, in reference to a particularly divisive pair of kicks once favoured by Gen Z girls. “Or if she just dresses basic. Not being socially aware. Having no friends,” he continues. “Am I being a massive dickhead?”
To be honest, not really. Given the extreme pickiness of women when it comes to the ick (when a man’s legs dangle off a bar stool or if they scream on a rollercoaster, for example), Ben’s criteria feels pretty tame. His friend Josh, 23, also has some pretty reasonable ick triggers: “When girls are tight about money or if they try to ‘change’ you for the better, those are my two biggest icks. Even though change may be needed, it’s not always wanted!”
On the other hand, 25-year-old Ollie didn’t even know what the ick was until we asked him about it. “I just had to Google that,” he says. But once educated, Ollie was able to come up with a few turnoffs that fit the bill. “When girls call me ‘love’ or some other patronising term of endearment, that gives me the ick. And when they wear make-up that doesn’t match their skin colour. Ick! That being said, I’m clutching at straws here.”
Ollie is also quick to note that whatever gives him the ick when flirting with someone new, doesn’t necessarily apply in a long-term, established relationship. “These things don’t really matter when you’ve been with someone for ages, because you can see beyond the ick,” he says.
So far, so abundantly clear: straight men do get the ick. Although they might sometimes be unfamiliar with the term and the online vernacular which underpins it, they can most definitely relate to that ick-adjacent feeling – and really, who couldn’t?
Much like the now-infamous goblin mode trend, public appetite for these catch-all phrases that describe abstract feelings ebbs and flows, often amplified by social media. The emotions they elicit, however, remain, and are pretty universal. No matter your gender, the ick, in all its glorious forms, isn’t going anywhere.