During the initial stages of dating, chances are you’re only revealing what you believe to be your best self. If you really like this person, your brain may not register anything negative because you’re too focused on how seemingly perfect they are for you, and how not to mess it up. Also, you’re still getting to know them, which, let’s face it, can feel like it takes a lifetime.
As we all know though, a relationship is never one straight road and there will come a point where romance melts into reality, when we choose (or not) to accept our other half as a whole with all their quirks.
I recently came across the ick phenomenon; a term used to describe how one minute you can be completely and utterly infatuated with your partner, and the next thing you know you’ve been repelled by something they’ve done, so much so that it could derail your entire relationship.
Upon searching the hashtag on TikTok, I was confronted with thousands of ickers sharing their stories. Not only was I relieved to find out I wasn’t the only one to recall ridiculous reasons to be turned off by someone, I was fascinated that we can be so quick to red flag someone the minute they show they’re actually human; (bodily sounds, ill-fitting hair styles, slimy affection, weird habits…you get the drift.
After our first lockdown in 2020, I started dating a guy- we’ll call him George- whom I’d met on Bumble. George was delightfully funny, a great conversationalist and had a cute I’m a cool musician photo up on his profile. Our first date was a blast and the chemistry was palpable… all my reservations about dating apps flew out the window after I met him.
I heard from George the morning after our first date. Despite feeling hesitant about seeing him at first, the second date led to spending several nights a week together. He wasn’t my usual brunette I’m a bad boy and I’m emotionally incapable of being tethered to anything other than my freedom type, but gosh he made me laugh. I just wanted to be around him all the time.
About four weeks in, we planned to meet at my place and go out for dinner at a delicious new Japanese restaurant. Before dinner we grabbed a drink close by. After about twenty minutes, he kept trying to grab my face and indulge in what he thought was romantic PDA. Like he was marking his territory or something. What had gotten into him? I couldn’t wait to get out of there fast enough; I felt claustrophobic!
If you think I’m being cruel, I think I am too. The poor guy was just trying to show his affection, right? I had been craving affection for months!
The rest of the night was great but I couldn’t get the PDA incident out of my mind because I just wasn’t at that stage in our relationship yet. I was used to chasing guys; not being chased.
I started noticing a few other things about George. Arriving to my place wearing jeans that were so tight he may have busted out of them, telling me he was going out for a few drinks, but then hearing from him twenty-four hours later after his unplanned bender… it’s as if I had been wearing invisible rose-colored glasses that all of a sudden fell off. I officially had The Ick. I was confused because he had for the most part seemed without faults. Was I being irrational? Was I under the illusion that perfection exists?
We dated for just under a year, and, in the end, realised we were ultimately searching for different things. Our breakup had nothing to do with my ick fears, and in hindsight I’m glad about that. Giving up the fun we had for silly details that shouldn’t matter? That would have been a really silly thing to do.
There is one caveat.
The ick can indicate real and rational red flags. In the case of George’s benders, compatibility may have been an issue. I was ready to settle down and he was still indulging in excessive amounts of partying – for this reason I felt qualified to question any fears. The tight jeans? Not so much.
One of my best friends (we’ll call her Gwen) had a serious case of the icks when she first started dating her now husband. He (we’ll call him Brett) chased her for over six months and for the whole six months, she was repulsed by everything he did.
She confided in us (her friends) regularly, sharing all of the incredibly sweet things Brett would do, never giving up on his pursuit of love for her. Gwen ended up surrendering to his chase and went on a date with him. Within about two weeks, it’s as if Brett had cast a spell on Gwen and her tune about him completely flipped. For the next six years a love story blossomed in front of our eyes. Gwen realised that Brett chasing her made her want to run; she didn’t even know why. She gave it a chance and still to this day with three kids in tow, Gwen reaffirms that her superficial issues towards Brett could have caused her to make the biggest mistake of her life.
In the physical dating world I’ve historically moved towards instant attraction. I think this is influenced by our society’s obsession with image. The way someone looks, how they move, the conversation I have with them when we first meet, and most of all, chemistry. I’m always attracted to my mind’s ideal of the perfect guy.
I’ve started questioning my overall intention when it comes to dating, trying not to put all my energy into finding a partner who (on paper) ticks all the boxes. I’m learning to throw my hands up in the air and enjoy the process of getting to know whoever I am dating – which, with an open heart, is the best part.
The problem with an illusion of love (or even lust) at first sight is that searching for fireworks may lead to ignoring what’s right in front of you. I’m not saying love at first sight doesn’t exist, because it absolutely does, but isn’t the beauty of a slow burn to learn about all of someone’s subtleties and find out you might love them even through moments of undesirability?
I’m terrified of being someone’s ick. Terrified that someone will find me imperfect… but would I want them to change me? I certainly wouldn’t want to be in a relationship where I was imposing that upon someone else.
Engaging in a slow burn I’ve found can be the beauty of breaking these walls down and becoming vulnerable, and comfortable, and learning to love all of someone; including their flaws. Giving in to the ick, is giving in to the illusion of perfection. This can hold us back from offering and receiving love. When we are able to release our grip on searching for love without faults, perhaps we will welcome the most incredible love of all.