Explain Like I’m 35: What is the Ick?

One of the many things that this period in history will be remembered for is the sheer, unprecedented amount of choice that the most privileged of us in the world have been exposed to. There’s a consumer good for every minor inconvenience, and an app for every single part of our lives. Naturally, all of this choice has led us to become a lot pickier, too. 

First and foremost, getting the ick is a process that happens with matters of the heart. It’s when something that previously enamored you suddenly seems like the grossest thing on earth, usually due to something inconsequential. It’s the fussiness we feel like we can afford to have when there are so many options out there, and a more visceral way of showing our fatigue at certain things. It has varied uses, although its main one is romantic.

Given the way it gets used today, it’s kind of ironic that its contemporary origins can be traced back to a 2017 episode of UK dating show Love Island, where contestants have deliberately limited prospects for a new romance. When a contestant used it to describe her feelings for a man she had previously be interested in, the concept — which was previously floated on sitcoms like Sex and the City and Friends decades earlier — quickly became another tool in the expansive repertoire of vocabulary used to describe the complicated world of modern dating.

At its core, an ick is about making everything lesser. It’s diminished feelings, and enjoyment in things, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on what it’s referring to. If it’s a no good man you have the misfortune of having a crush on, you’re in luck. If it’s your long term boyfriend, it’s a much trickier situation. Disgust is a powerful emotion, and it is very easily prompted when we have the entire cursed creativity of the internet at our disposal. The ick is cringe in its most irrational yet compelling form: an unwelcome surprise that may well generate unpleasant flashbacks for years to come.



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