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Relationship Icks, Red Flags, and the Blurry Line That Separates Them

Article By Christianna Silva

~ JUNE 2022 ~

The summer of 2021 in Brooklyn was hot, and sticky, and thick, and thrilling.

Widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines were sweeping the nation. The anticipation — returning to bars, hosting parties, seeing old friends, going on dates — floated in a layer just above the steaming pavement. And, with it, came the return to the internal evaluation we all have to make of what is worth spending our new-found time outside of the home.

Alessandra Licul went on a lot of dates that summer, and one of her potential suitors stuck out to her. He was kind, smart, and over six feet tall. He planned out all of their dates, followed up, and had Olaplex deep conditioner in his shower. But he also didn’t eat vegetables.

He couldn’t cook vegetables, got his burgers sans tomato and lettuce, and insisted that their supposed requirement to fulfill a natural diet was unnecessary. She called him No Vegetables John, and the fact that he didn’t eat vegetables was so egregious that it wiped out all of the good in him. Licul had gotten the ick.

“Him not eating vegetables was such an obvious maturity regression. How was I supposed to meet any of my goals if I had to spend time convincing some guy to eat a tomato?” she told Mashable. “It would be one thing if he approached it as something to fix, but the attitude and refusal carte blanche was just psychotic. I can’t take care of myself and also take care of you.” How was I supposed to meet any of my goals if I had to spend time convincing some guy to eat a tomato?

Icks, the seemingly insignificant things someone we’re dating does that repulse us, aren’t something that popped up as a result of the pandemic, although the majority of society going dark on dating and then bursting back into the scene did shed some pretty raw light on them. Since then, the trend of talking about things you consider to be icks has taken off on TikTok, with over 410 million views in the #icks tag.

Dating coach Hayley Quinn told Mashable that when you feel like you have “an abundance of potential dates,” you might be more reticent to commit to someone — and might use icks as an excuse not to.

“That doesn’t always have to be a bad thing — sometimes it can be positive to take your time, to get to know someone and to not rush towards commitment,” Quinn said. But the “flip side” of that is potentially falling into the trap of breaking up with someone for “reasons that are actually quite minor.” Quinn said that icks are “as old as time,” and a sort of necessary “part of the courtship process” in which we work out what’s important to us in a partner, what isn’t, and what we’re willing to compromise on.

“I think part of being single is you might start to question whether you’ve got your kind of filters in the right places,” Quinn said. “And I think some icks [can be] a funny, extreme version of that.”

These “extreme” icks are things like, as one friend told me, “being able to do a cartwheel,” and “owning any snorkeling gear,” and, as one person told BuzzFeed “sneezing multiple times.” But the other icks, like not eating vegetables, could be indicative of something deeper that makes the two of you incompatible.

When we speak about icks, sometimes we’re simply talking about the little things that people do that turn us off. But oftentimes, we’re speaking about what’s underneath the ick: the thread that makes up a red flag, the sticky tar that looks like part of a road but we know is, instead, a sinkhole.

Quinn says it’s important to decipher if you’re disregarding someone because of something “that’s actually not that important,” or spotting a genuine red flag. And psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis agrees, telling Mashable that figuring out if something is a red flag or a simple ick has a lot to do with intent. With a red flag, Sarkis says, there’s an “attack on your wellbeing” that makes you feel unsafe, including not feeling like you can be vulnerable with someone, or you can’t tell them what your needs are.

In that case, icks can be far more than a silly way to talk about dating — they can be sort of red herrings, representative of what we’re willing to put up with. And sometimes it can be helpful to talk about that with a sense of humor, similar to how we create memes to talk about trauma. While dating is not always a traumatic experience, talking about what you are willing to put up with in a partner can be incredibly awkward — so it can lighten the load a bit to approach them as simple icks. But, if you spot an ick in someone, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s automatically time to call things quits. Because, after all, a lot of people don’t eat their broccoli.

Sarkis says one of the best ways to approach this is to first investigate why their actions are bothering you. If it’s because they’re being disrespectful or rude, then it’s a red flag. If it’s a preference, then it’s “just something to talk to your partner about.” If you tell someone that something they do is an ick to you — even if it’s as seemingly small as not eating vegetables or chewing with their mouth open — and they continue to do it, that’s a red flag all on its own.

While dating is not always a traumatic experience, talking about what you are willing to put up with in a partner can be incredibly awkward — so it can lighten the load a bit to approach them as simple icks. “If the person says, ‘you’re being sensitive and it’s not that big of a deal,’ if it feels wrong to you, then it’s wrong,” Sarkis said. “You need to trust your feelings, even if someone tells you that you are overreacting.” And it’s not only apologizing for the ick or red flag, but you should be able to count on them to take steps to change their behavior so it won’t happen again.

For instance, while I appreciate dental hygiene, I cannot stand seeing someone else brush their teeth. There is no logical reason for this, so I just fill my partner in — if they choose to no longer do it right in front of me, that’s a win. But if they keep chasing me around the apartment while brushing their teeth, that’s it for me. Not because brushing your teeth within my view is that egregious, but because refusing to do something small for me is a real bummer, and not one I’m willing to put up with.

Ultimately, the experts want you to trust your gut — within reason. But hey, it’s your life and if you don’t like something about someone you’re dating, dump them.

A version of this article originally appeared here on


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