I was walking with a friend recently when she pointed out a man wearing sandals with jeans. “That gives me the ick”, she said. This was the start of her so-called “ick list”, which consisted of gems such as “when a man is rude to his mum”, or the arguably less valid “using an escalator” (a man should just stick to one floor, it seems). These apparently unforgivable acts only had one thing in common: they gave her the ‘ick’. 

 The ‘ick’ is a relatively recent phenomenon, popularised largely by Gen Z to refer to behaviours and actions that put you off a potential partner, however random. It encompasses the feeling of being turned off by someone for no apparent reason. But is it only a recent development in the dating climate of our generation? And is it totally unreasonable? 

Urban Dictionary defines the ick as “feeling an intense cringe or nausea at the thought of a straight male doing normal things”. As much as Urban Dictionary probably isn’t a reliable source, it may shed a little light on why the ick has become such a prevalent concept. Aimed, in this case, entirely at straight men, the definition suggests that it is perhaps a reaction by everybody else against the dominance of straight white males in society; a counter-reaction to centuries of topping the social hierarchy. But it seems a little dramatic to call the ick a movement of restorative justice. 

In my experience, it isn’t only used to pinpoint straight men (although my friends seem to obtain a certain glee from it). Anyone and everyone could come under fire for giving someone the ick, and in some cases have no idea why. One friend of mine is turned off by people who say “ATM machine” instead of “ATM”. I recall once breaking up with someone on the spot because he had grown a moustache and started wearing Hawaiian shirts everywhere. Whether I was being shallow or just 15 years old, I have no idea, but the ick triumphed all the same. 

There may also be a biological excuse for the ick, stemming from years of research into philematology – the art or science of kissing. The widely approved theory explaining why humans kiss is that it is a way of exchanging pheromones, which allows us to swap biological information. We subconsciously use it to determine whether our immune systems are compatible, in order to create stronger offspring. While I’m not definitely saying that the ick is just a modern form of natural selection, there can be biological reasons why we are inexplicably turned off someone, especially if it comes after a kiss. This brings good news to bad kissers everywhere, who can now blame the defect on an un-appetising immune system. 

Having said all this, maybe the ick is just a symptom of collective higher standards. Perhaps the widespread use of social media, and the ability to see and interact with people all over the world have given us much more exacting expectations for the ideal partner, and a much clearer vision of our personal turn-offs. It could just be that our generation is less willing to settle for someone we aren’t completely enamoured with.

Either way, whether it is a progressive political movement, a manifestation of natural selection or simply an act of collective self-respect, one thing remains clear: you can still use an escalator if you want to. 

Cover photo: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash