The Soho Sex Column: Can you get over ‘the ick’?

The Soho Sex Colum: The Ick: Can You Get Over It? | Soho House

This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter delves into that nagging feeling of disgust we’ve all experienced in dating

Friday 26 August 2022   By Olivia Petter  Illustration by Rosa Viktoria Ahlers

You’re looking into someone’s eyes when it hits you. It’s sudden. Intense. Overwhelming. The feeling might be hard to describe, making it all the more unsettling. Is it disgust? Embarrassment? Or an old-fashioned dose of the heebie-jeebies? Whatever it is, it’s a feeling you can’t shake. And you’re going to need to do something about it.

Introducing ‘the ick’. To the uninitiated, it’s a common experience among single people. The phrase itself, famously used by Love Island UK’s Olivia Atwood in 2018, refers to the surprisingly quick feeling of repulsion people feel when dating someone new. What triggers it might not always be clear, but it’s usually a very difficult thing to move past.

As for the icks themselves, they can vary. Many tweets calling for people’s icks have gone viral in recent years – in no particular order, here are some examples: long fingernails, tying their shoelaces, wearing a rucksack, counting change, matching pyjamas, android phones, drinking milk, calling without consent, loud breathing, typos, using too many emojis, and not using enough emojis. 

If it exists, it can be an ick. I don’t know what your ick is, but I do know that the majority of them are very difficult to get over. Sure, it might sound ridiculous to stop dating someone just because they consume dairy, or spell ‘you’re’ wrong, but I often find that the ick is about more than just one small off-putting thing. It’s a sign of a deeper incompatibility – and that’s something we should take seriously.

Let me give you an example of some of my icks. There was the Hinge date who refused to leave my house the morning after – and even asked me to make him a coffee. The friend of a friend who insisted on brushing my hair before we went out for dinner. And the guy I met in a bar who started calling me ‘baby’. 

You see, none of these things would have necessarily mattered had I been interested in these men. But for myriad reasons, I wasn’t. It just so happens that the ick was the thing that helped me realise that. In hindsight, I could see that the Hinge date had also made me feel uncomfortable in bed. And I had nothing in common with the friend of a friend. As for the guy in the bar, he was just a bit of a creep.

If I’m really into someone, I could have overcome even the ickiest of icks. And I suspect you could, too. That’s the thing about the ick: you only get it with someone you never really liked in the first place. But sometimes it’s easier to blame it on their fingernails. It also makes for better brunch fodder when you share it with friends.

As for your situation, I’d suggest ending things with this person. If they’ve given you the ick, it’s highly unlikely you will be able to move past it. Don’t waste your time trying to like someone that’s not right for you. Life’s too short.

The quick-fire round

Does it count as a first date if you split the bill?
Why wouldn’t it? Personally, I’d also rather split the bill on a first date, so as to avoid any obvious power dynamics from the outset. The only exception is if they earn significantly more than you and suggest a meeting point that is absurdly expensive like, say, Claridge’s in London. If they can afford it and know that you can’t, then, yes, they can pay.

Can you be friends with a former friends with benefits?
It depends on why you stopped having the benefits. Was it because they entered into a relationship? And were they honest with you about that? Do you feel like you have established clear boundaries about what a purely platonic friendship between the two of you would look like? If the answer is yes, then I see no reason why not. If you can’t be sure, though, things could get messy. I’d ask yourself if the friendship would be worth it. 

Have a question for our columnist? Please email me at All submissions will remain anonymous. 

Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate
Interested in becoming a member?