I am sure by now that you have heard of the dreaded Ick. What is it really? And is it a death sentence for a relationship? Today I share everything you need to know about The Ick. In this episode, I talk about what causes The Ick and provide you with a toolbox for how to deal with it when it rears its ugly head.

Listen to this episode to learn what brings on The Ick and what you can do about it.

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Show Notes:


  • How to define The Ick
  • What causes The Ick and what can we do about it?
  • An example of The Wave
  • Why Ken renamed The Ick to The Wave
  • Can you get over The Wave


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Title of the Episode


Hello and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. I’m Ken Page, and I am a psychotherapist specializing in intimacy and the search for love, and the author of the best-selling book, Deeper Dating®.

Today, I’m going to be talking about what people call the ick, which is this feeling of revulsion or disinterest or boredom that happens kind of out of nowhere, and I think is the single greatest saboteur of healthy new relationships. And I’m going to offer you a completely different framework to understand what that is and what to do about it.


This phenomenon, which I call the wave of distancing, actually is the single greatest saboteur of healthy new love. Click To Tweet


So in this episode, in every episode, my commitment is to share the greatest tools and insights that I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing, and heal your life in the process. Because the skills of dating are the skills of intimacy, and those are the greatest skills of all for a meaningful, happy life.

And if you want to learn more about the deeper dating path to real intimacy, just go to Deeper Dating Podcast and if you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll get free gifts and learn a lot more about how to use these ideas to transform your entire intimacy journey.

And you’ll also find complete transcripts of every episode on that website. And by the way, if you like what you’re learning here, I would love it if you could subscribe and even leave me a review. There are just incredible beautiful reviews, and I would really appreciate yours. So thank you so much for that.


What You NEED to Know About The Ick

What is The Ick: This phenomenon, which I call the wave of distancing, is the single greatest saboteur of healthy new love.


So let’s jump in. I have to say that in so many ways, I am so saddened and disappointed by the bad dating advice that’s out there. And this is one of the most powerful examples of all, this concept of the ick, which is now viral, and it’s misleading. And in most cases, it comes from a poverty of insight.

And like I said, I think that this phenomenon, which I call the wave of distancing, actually is the single greatest saboteur of healthy, new love. And no one teaches us what it really is or how to handle it. And I know that it devastated my life for decades and has done the same for a lot of people who really want healthy love, but slam into this dynamic and don’t know what to do with it.


What is The Ick


Okay, so what is the ick? Well, it was first coined by Olivia Atwood. She was in a reality dating show and she said, “When I meet somebody and I get the ick, it just doesn’t go away and I can’t shake it off.” And the Urban Dictionary says it really well. It says, “When you think you like somebody, but then suddenly you catch the ick. And from then on, you can’t look at the person in the same way. You just progressively get more and more turned off by them, weirdly and maybe for no reason in particular grossed out by them.”

And that’s how people experience this. And that’s how I experienced this dynamic for a long time. Basically, you’re helpless, you’re screwed. When you get the ick, and you’ll see this in social media virally and endlessly these days, of folks that have not been given the understanding of what this is. So people are like, “Oh, I had the ick and that was it. The relationship had to end. This dating situation had to end because it’s the ick and that’s it.”

There is a much deeper essential understanding of what that dynamic is. And in this episode, I’m going to teach you a deeper understanding and I’m going to give you a kind of little toolbox on how to deal with it when it happens, from this place of deeper understanding. And I hope that when you finish this episode, you’ll be armed with skills and tools that can literally change your future.

Because when you hit into the ick and it just feels like a wall, well, you’re screwed. So if you have experienced this and you’ve been plagued with it, like I was for so long, this could be life changing.

So I had to learn this the hard way because there were no words for this dynamic and it plagued me. There wasn’t even the concept of ick, which at least puts a name on it. But that’s a name, it’s a name that actually misguides and misleads us, and is so simplistic and primitive in its understanding. But I had to kind of learn the hard way how to understand this thing that kept me from love for so long, what it was and how to get through it.

And I have been in so many groups where I’ve been teaching and I ask people to raise their hands if they have experienced this, if they struggle with this, and pretty much always between one-third and two-thirds of the audience raises their hands. And a lot of those hands go up with a great deal of passion and frustration.

Yes, I struggle with this dynamic. I think there are so many of us who do, but we have not been given tools. So what I want to start in terms of working with this and understanding it, is give it a new name. This is the name that I gave this dynamic in Psychology Today. And the response has been absolutely viral around that. And so many people have written to me and asked me about this or shared their experiences.

So in my podcast, in my book, in my courses, in my intensives, what I call it is the wave of distancing, or just simply the wave. So attraction is such a rich minable subject and dating advice is usually filled with this kind of poverty of insight. And even the research, interestingly enough, about attraction is much more about the dynamics that happen around immediate attraction between strangers.

And the fact is that the majority of romantic relationships end up evolving out of friendship first. How wild is that? But the research which focuses on that exciting immediate attraction has somehow ignored that. And there’s new research coming out to kind of prove that point.

So I want to acknowledge first that something like a smell that just really bothers you, even if it’s not a body odor smell, just a smell that just kind of goes against your system, there’s something about that that might not ever be able to change. There are yellow flags and red flags that we experience, and maybe things that we’ll never end up understanding that turn us off, and it ends up being kind of irreparable. And in those cases, it’s just not going to be a match.

However, I would absolutely say that in the majority of cases when you get the wave, what it is a spasm of fear, which is actually dramatically more likely to happen with someone who is kind, present, and available. And researchers have spoken to me about this and said that if you are someone who has tended to be attracted to people like the bad boys, the bad girls, the bad thems, if that’s been your type, when you meet someone who is kind and decent and available, you are someone who’s going to be much more likely to experience the wave.

And that was totally true for me. I was again and again repulsed by someone who was too present, too warm, too available, too undrama-ish, but just present and liking me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I got this wave of distancing. And again and again when I got it, I had two different reactions. One was a kind of despair at my immaturity and the other was a desire to just get the hell out of there and find someone who was just plain, simply hot to me.


When you're in The Wave, pressure is going to be your death knell. Eros has a really hard time surviving and growing under pressure. Click To Tweet


And that dynamic is the biggest, biggest, biggest dynamic that kept me single for decades, while I was looking so hard and with such intensity for love. So I just want to tell you a few stories. I want to tell you a story first about a friend of mine, and this is someone who also was single for a really long time, and he met somebody and he began to fall in love.

And all of a sudden, he was falling in love with this guy, introducing him to his friends, his family. And he started getting the wave. And the way it manifested most strongly was about a kind of disgust in the way this guy laughed. And he felt like that laughter represented maybe a phoniness or an artificiality or a lack of depth, and it was overdone, and it was just totally not cool to him. It was truly embarrassing every time this guy left and it kind of sickened him. And then, he related to other concerns that he had about this person too.

So there he was, this was a psychotherapist, without deeper knowledge, he would’ve said, “Oh, it’s the ick. This is over. I have to get out of here.” But he talked to his friends who had met this guy and really liked him and they said to him, “What are you even talking about? His laugh, it’s a laugh. It’s boisterous. It’s a laugh, get over it. This guy is awesome and we are going to kill you if you fuck this up.” And that was enough to realign him enough to get through that spasm of fear called the wave of distancing and come out the other side. And they are married and happy together now, years later.

So why do I call it the wave? I call it that because it’s like a wave. So a wave hits you, it knocks into you, you maybe lose your balance, and then it passes. But you have to stay long enough for it to pass and to find your balance again. And that is the wild, amazing thing that I did not know for decades, which is that it passes.

And when I would get that wave of distancing, I wouldn’t believe it’d pass. How does a wall turn into a non-wall? And I would just experience this kind of repulsion, which was the exact opposite of sexual attraction, the exact opposite of desire. And I would leave, I would just leave. I would just get the hell out of there. And sometimes not very nicely.

And it was always awkward because I had already gone in. Maybe we had sex together already, maybe we had a few nice dates, maybe we had a number of dates and sex. But all of a sudden, I just couldn’t take it anymore. And I was feeling the wave of distancing and I would feel like such a jerk, but I would leave because I felt kind of repulsed and because this siren song of a sexy guy who I wouldn’t feel that with just completely took me over.

So I didn’t stay long enough for the wave to pass. I didn’t learn what the tools are, which I’m going to teach you, for what to do to help that wave pass and come out the other side. And here are the tools. I’m just going to say them right now. Basically, they’re two things. And we’ll go into it in a little more depth because there’s a deeper understanding of how to navigate the wave, that we’ll talk about in a little bit. But for now, the two keys when you’re experiencing the wave are A, don’t flee, and B, back up and give yourself space.

If something like sex felt good and then you hit the wave and sex just doesn’t feel like something you want to do, don’t have sex. Hold hands, go to the movies, take a walk, do fun stuff, do things with friends, something to relieve the pressure, because you’re getting panicked. It’s an unconscious spasm of fear that manifests in this way.


What You NEED to Know About The Ick

Renaming The Ick: So often The Wave comes when we don’t know how to take care of ourselves and ask for what we need.


And the image that I often think of is if you’ve ever been in an environment where there are mother birds and baby birds in the nest, and you get too close to the nest, the mother bird is going to freak out. She will dive bomb you. She will fly to the ground and lay on her back so that you could kind of take her. She’ll do all of these crazy, crazy things to protect the babies that are in the nest.

Well, when you meet someone who’s really available and kind and decent, something inside gets really scared. Is this going to suffocate you? Will there be no space? Will you be trapped? Or even more horribly, will you begin to let your walls down and then that person is going to destroy you, like has maybe happened to you before?

So we create this thing that basically turns into, “Get out of here, get out of here, get out of here.” And that’s what has been called the ick, but is actually just simply a wave of distancing in most cases.

So when you’re in the wave, pressure is going to be your death. Now, do not pressure yourself because Eros has a really hard time surviving and growing under pressure. Give yourself space.

Now, people who are HSPs, highly sensitive people, kind of need even extra space. I am one of those folks. And forever, I was troubled by how much space I needed. I couldn’t sleep close to somebody. And I had to learn instead of just assuming that I was just pathological, just so terrified of intimacy, I had to learn that that was actually a response.

I needed to be able to somehow ask for or take a little bit of space. And when I did that, my sense of connection came back. Because so often the wave comes when we don’t know how to take care of ourselves and ask for what we need. Or when we’re afraid and we don’t know how to put words on it. But often, it’s when we need something and we don’t think we can ask for it.

And I want to say that often, that is not conscious and takes a bunch of therapy and talking to friends. But the two things to know are first, as I said, don’t pressure yourself. And second, don’t flee. Just don’t flee. And here’s what’s going to happen, which is an f-ing miracle that nobody teaches us, is that almost definitely in a little bit of time, if you do those two things, don’t pressure yourself and don’t flee and then try to kind of figure it out, what your needs are, if you do that, your attraction and your interest will actually almost always come back. And with it, you’re going to have a clearer sense of if this person is right for you or not.

Why has nobody told us this? Why is the battlefield of dating strewn with the corpses of potential healthy relationships? Because of the wave of distancing. Because nobody taught us what it is.


An example of The Ick


So I’m just going to share some stories about this, about me. So this one story, and I think I told it once before. But back in the days of phone sex, there was this guy who I met on the phone sex line, and he had the best voice, and we would have phone sex. And he was really smart and really interesting and really competent in the world and he had this totally sexy voice. And the way he described himself physically sounded just perfect for me. So our phone sexes turned into phone dates and we would have phone sex and then we would just talk for hours. And this grew and grew and grew. And then finally, we met each other.

I was so ready for my finally the relationship, so I met him. And he came in to the restaurant and he smelled so intensely of Elizabeth Taylor cologne for men, which was a little hard for me. And his face was really intense and even a little scary to me, and it just wasn’t going to be a match. And I was so disappointed because I felt like this was going to be my relationship. We had been talking for over a month. We had gone so deep together. I loved his voice. I loved his mind.

Anyway, we sat down together even though I kind of wanted to flee. And I just didn’t know what to do. So we talked for a while. And then, I left and I went to the bathroom, and I did a tiny practice that changed my life. And the practice was that I just dropped down into my feelings, because my head was telling me that I was absolutely not attracted. But this is what my feeling said when I dropped down into my feeling, and it was stunning and surprising and amazing.

And this is one of the seven skills of Deeper Dating® that I teach in the book. And it’s a beautiful, important skill. You leave your head where you’re going through all of your, “Is this right? Am I right? Are they right?” All those calculations, you leave your head and you drop down into the internal weather that you experience in the presence of this person.

So I did that. And what I felt was this feeling of warmth and gratitude for meeting this guy, and a sense of real fondness for him, and a sense like I wanted to be laughing with him, which was so far from what my head was telling me. And that was as far as it went.

And so, I went back, and there was this growing sense of romance. That if I didn’t do that thing of A, giving myself space, B, tapping into my heart, and C, figuring out what my heart and my body and my being wanted at that moment with him, I would have fled. And it would’ve been another nail in the coffin of Ken is just too immature to be able to find love, or too damaged.

So that relationship, there’s more to that story because as I sit, I wasn’t completely attracted to him. And there were things that I was not attracted to, but I was falling in love with him. And for the first time, I was able to live with that horrible, painful kind of agonizing tug of one part of me that was falling for him and one part that wasn’t.

And I think that’s a place of bravery and intimacy. And I encourage every one of you, if you find yourself in that situation, to stay until you know that you really do need to leave. Or what I have seen happen again and again, is people get past the thing that they’re not attracted to.

In other words, the in-lovey kind of thing grows and the unattraction to whatever this part is begins to diminish. I’ve seen this again and again.

So for me, this relationship wasn’t going to work for other issues, which were wisely and rightfully going to have this not be a match. But I came out the other side so healed and changed.

I had another relationship like that too with someone, where it didn’t end up being right and I had the same kind of thing. But I had some skills now and I knew that I could stay. And this guy was smart and cute and liked me, but I felt this ugh-y feeling, which is why that name ick makes sense. But I knew about the wave by then. I knew what it was.

And the way that I experienced things with him, because I stayed, was like this. It was like this; it was like you’ve got a canoe and you’re dragging it over rocks and it’s no fun and there’s no buoyancy until you hit the river. And then, I hit the river and my attraction came back and we floated on that river. It wasn’t a match. But the point is that I knew about that grind-y uncomfortable space in between the initial attraction and then the sense of there being a flow and connection. And it was my wave of distancing, which as I said, I have really bad.


For those of us who have been afraid of showing our most vulnerable, passionate, authentic self, we've been hurt a lot, we put up a wall. And when someone is really available, we experience fear at the same time as we experience excitement and… Click To Tweet


Not everybody experiences the wave with that kind of repulsion and intensity that I was kind of plagued with. Some people maybe feel like they’re just getting a little bit bored or there are lighter signs that they experience. They’re just less interested. Something bothers them a little bit.

And for those people who experience the wave not as a revulsion, but a boredom that can come in the presence of availability, what I want to say is: develop a taste for it. Because this person might have really exciting parts, and with someone who’s available, the excitement comes from a different place with someone who’s not really available or doesn’t really treat you right, what I call an attraction of deprivation. The excitement comes from trying to get them to love you and the feelings of micro success when you do. With someone who’s really available, the excitement gets cultivated in a different way.

It comes from the place of, “Okay, how much risk can I actually take in this conversation? How much risk can I take in terms of what I ask for?” Because with someone like that, you can ask for more. You can experience being held and being safer in deeper and deeper ways. You can experience someone stretching for you. You can experience swinging out in terms of what you ask for and what you give. You could talk about the scarier stuff, the deeper stuff, the truer stuff.

And when you’re with someone who gets that and can hear it and can actually go to the same level with you, it’s kind of like jumping into space from a trapeze and then getting caught by the other person. And these are the healthy ways that Eros is built.


What You NEED to Know About The Ick

Getting rid of The Ick: pressure will be your death knell.


And the same thing is true sexually because in these kinds of healthy relationships where we are more likely to experience the wave, it’s important to be really aware of what really turns you on, what you really want, what you really need. Because availability has a different circuitry of sexual turn-on than unavailability than that bad boy, bad girl, bad them kind of circuitry.

You need to really listen to your internal cues about where you need more space, where you want to act a little different sexually, where you want the other person to do sexually and romantically, when you want to slow things down, when you want to speed things up. Because with somebody like that, you can take the time to discover what’s really you, ask for it, and then have that person meet that need and meet you. And then there is a feeling of rich and real love.

That for me was a feeling that I had just basically almost never known in romance because it’s a feeling of romance growing because of the richness and the magic and the chemistry of a healthy connection. And an excitement that comes from depths and heights that are actually authentic, instead of the depths and the heights that were about, “Could I get this gorgeous, amazing person who wasn’t enough into me to finally really like me?” Because those people had this aura of beauty that absolutely enthralled me. So it’s a different circuitry that we learn.

And for those of us who have been afraid of showing our most vulnerable, passionate, authentic self, we’ve been hurt a lot, we put up a wall. And when someone is really available, we experience fear at the same time as we experience excitement and possibility. And that fear, those spasms of fear manifest as the wave.


Getting rid of The Ick


So one last story. I met Greg, my husband, and I was so crazy about him from the moment I met him. I was so crazy about him. And I remember writing in my journal, “Wow, all this stuff I thought and wrote about the wave was totally not true, because I finally met someone who I’m really crazy about and I am not having any of these wave experiences.” Well, that did not last. And I did have the wave. And if I hadn’t understood this, I would’ve fled him. And this relationship would not have happened. This marriage, this family, none of it would’ve happened, I promise you because I would’ve been out of there.

But knowing what I knew, I knew to enjoy all the parts I enjoyed, lighten up and worry less about my spasms of fear, take space every time and in every way that I needed to, ask for what I wanted in a kind way. And so, I could ask for the space I needed. I could ask for the things I needed in a context of intimacy, in connection. In the past, when I didn’t have those skills, the wall would go up, and that would be it. That would be the end.

So thank God for all of that learning I did about this horrible, painful wave. And I hope and pray that these ideas touch you and that you try them. I think you’ll be blown away to discover that the wave actually passes when you make space for yourself.

But with Greg, it took a while. And I would go through this wild thing where I’d be like crazy in love with him, “Let’s get married.” And then I’d be, “Oh, the wave is back. And in fact, I’m really scared, because I feel absolutely nothing. What the hell did I do?” And then, the feelings would come back and I’d be excited again. And then, they would go away again. And this was just my process of allowing someone in.

And like I said, if I didn’t know these skills and have those tools, I would not have my family. So I want to say to every one of you, if you have gone through this, please do not accept the cheap and easy answer of, “Oh, it’s the ick.” Assume it’s the wave of distancing and ride that wave in the ways that I’m describing. You will find something almost definitely that is amazing that happens. And that is that the wave passes, it disappears. And with it, you’ll have a clearer sense of if this person is right for you or not. That won’t always happen, but it usually will. In most cases, this magic actually works, and it’s the magic of intimacy wisdom, that so few of us are taught.

This was a much longer episode than usual, but because I think that this is so incredibly important and so unspoken that I just really wanted to share it all with you. So thank you so much for listening and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the Deeper Dating® Podcast.


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