Each week, we ask a FACE contributor to break down their biggest ick. Check out previous columns here.
There’s little more satisfying than discovering that a negative feeling you assumed was personal, completely original, is actually a universal experience that everyone can relate too. I have an unnecessarily vivid memory of being around 16 years-old and experiencing that “holy shit, everyone else gets that too” moment while pirating Lena Dunham’s Girls with my mum. There’s a scene where Marnie (Allison Williams) becomes utterly disgusted by her husband-to-be, Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), when he takes on the persona of an annoying, guitar-wielding gap year kid, despite being well into his 20s. It’s a disgust that feels pretty fair and warranted. The trouble is, Marnie still wants to marry him, but his newly-developed “posh white boy pretending to be a hippie” personality eclipses all the things she loves about him, including their once earth-shattering sex life. As Desi tried his best to give Marnie an orgasm, and she rolled her eyes at the thought of his busking, meditating and green-smoothie-drinking, I realised I’d been there many times before.
The last time was 2015. I’d just started university in a town that was completely new to me, so making friends and, of course, finding some people to flirt with was high on my priority list. A guy who lived across the hall invited me and a couple of girlfriends over to have dinner with his friends. He was fit, into good music and wore Doc Martens which, as an 18 year old, I believed to be the mark of a shaggable man. “I’ll cook,” he promised, which we’d later realise was a massive overstatement.
Entering his flat, I was hit by the familiar smell of Birds Eye frozen meat burning, which I recognised from my own shit cooking. And as he greeted us with smiles, brought the food over to the table and graced us with plates packed with turkey dinosaurs, my biggest ick was awakened. As it happens, grown-ups eating children’s food is the kryptonite to my sexual attraction to men.
Conversations about the notorious “ick” are dominating social media, with tweets detailing new layers of disgust we have for people we’re dating going viral every week. Type “ick” into TikTok (T‑ick-Tok?) and you’ll retrieve just over 146 million videos – and another million for “#igotthetick”. Most are from women, speaking of the men who’ve cringed them out so badly, they’re ready to slap an “out of order” sign across their vulva.
But most seem to be a little confused about what the “ick” really is. Some mistake it as a term for those silly things all straight men seem to do that are a bit annoying, like giving too many tongue-in-cheek compliments or messing around when you’re trying to be serious. Technically this isn’t wrong – the “ick” is a made up word for a made-up feeling. But back when it first debuted in the cultural zeitgeist (thank you, Love Island), the phrase was used specifically to describe what I’d previously coined “The Marnie Effect”, an act so powerfully gross, it could make you no longer want to shag your own husband.
And my ick is absolutely debilitating.
I don’t know what makes me feel so disgusted when a grown man eats children’s food. Perhaps someone threw turkey twizzlers at me in a repressed memory or I have some sort of diluted phobia. Or maybe it’s just “one of those things”, as many who speak about the ick describe it. Whatever the case, my aversion to men eating kids’ food has the power to transform a very attractive suitor into a gigantic baby right before my eyes.
As we know, men get away with being pretty inept at day-to-day tasks in a way that women could never pull off without being scolded. That includes grocery shopping and cooking – often, straight men have fridges full of air and their freezers full of frozen crap. Why? Well, it could be down to the fact that 25 per cent of men are picky eaters. Sometimes it’s because they can’t cook, sometimes it’s because they don’t care for their own health. And sometimes, they simply don’t realise it’s a problem.
I know I’m not alone in harbouring this particular ick. Friends have also complained of their partners’ child-like eating habits to me. “He didn’t eat vegetables at all until I taught him how to cook. He just ate burgers, chicken nuggets and pizza,” one friend told me of her 26-year-old boyfriend she lives with. When I told another friend I was writing this piece, he said “my friend Dave drinks chocolate milkshakes with every meal and wonders why he never gets any girls.” Men who eat like boys is clearly something we’re all plagued by. But personally, I just can’t continue with a relationship if spaghetti hoops and nuggets pop up during the early days of dating.
Men also treat themselves much more than women. And research shows that a lot of those fussy male eaters gravitate towards children’s food for comfort. It’s likely that many men – at least the ones I’ve dated – tuck into food that’s only acceptable for nine year-olds, from Lunchables to Fruit Winders, because they want to eat the “fun food” rather than make something that’s not interesting to them, even if it’s healthier. It’s an infantile version of having a glass of wine after work, or watching some trashy TV.
Maybe, deep down, I’m jealous of these men for unlocking an eating habit that serves the taste buds and comforts their inner child. But it’s also just a bit grim seeing someone you’re thinking of dating act like a 6‑foot toddler and demonstrate the incapability to feed themselves. Perhaps it’s also raising an early red flag: if I date this man with child-like eating habits, I’m going to have to finish raising him too. There’s layers to this ick, for sure.
Later this year, I’ll marry a man who thankfully doesn’t have a penchant for children’s food. But he does have some faves he’s not allowed to consume in front of me. He’s a man who races to the big Tesco to buy all the potato waffles and Wotsits he can consume in a weekend whenever I visit family or go away for work. As much as I don’t understand the need, I’m OK with it. The ick doesn’t rear its ugly head, just as long as I don’t have to hear about it. Out of sight, out of mind.
Is it sad that a packet of Monster Munch is the one thing I can imagine sending our relationship to hang in the balance? A bit. But that’s the thing about icks. They are so powerful, feelings of disgust so visceral, that not even true love can save the icky individual from the shame bestowed by the person on the receiving end. So please, men, snack on the Pom Bears in private, yeah?