When it comes to Gen Z’s relationship with relationships, I’ve got two words for you: it’s complicated. Gen Z tends to be the most pragmatic generation when it comes to dating, and concepts like “falling in love” often feel cringe, sappy, or mushy. Plus, the actual act of falling in love sounds like an experience reserved for cheesy rom-coms, right? Wrong. Falling in love is very much alive and well today, but it lives in tandem with another phenomenon that Gen Z is obsessed with (and admittedly, one that makes modern dating a bit more complicated). It’s a little something called “the ick.”
What is the ick, exactly? In its most basic form, the ick is a sudden, cringe feeling that occurs upon being in contact with someone (or in this case, dating them). Typically, you’re immediately put off by someone because of something specific they do or say. You may feel a slight sense of repulsion or be turned off by the person’s behavior, even if their quirk is seemingly innocent or well-intentioned.
At this point, you can probably pinpoint a time when you’ve experienced the ick in your own dating life — whether it’s the fact that your date is a loud talker or they just called you a pet name that sounds like it’s from the 1950s. Between turnoffs like this and Gen Z’s apparent disinterest in falling head over heels in love, it appears times are changing in the dating world. Why does love give Gen Z the ick so badly, and what does it say about dating culture?
If you’ve ever felt the “ick” in dating, you’re not alone.
Gen Z has called out many dating “icks” online, like sappy good morning texts, pet names, and more. A quick scroll through TikTok will show you that everyone has at least one behavior that makes them cringe. Sometimes, the ick is instant, and other times it may take a while to kick in. At times, you may want to stick out the discomfort, and other times you want to make a run for it and never see your date again. Even if your “ick” is something minor that not many people notice, the ick is very real, and it can make you question whether or not you’d ultimately like to continue dating someone.
Why do potential partners give Gen Z the ick so often, and what is it about love that turns us off? Is it that Gen Z is becoming more pragmatic about love, sex, and relationships and simply seeing past all things lovey-dovey? Is it because social media and dating apps make it easier for us to judge, or simply that our collective priorities around dating have shifted?
Dating apps and social media may lead to getting the “ick” more easily.
It’s no secret that dating apps and social media have dramatically changed how Gen Z is learning about love, sex, and relationships; almost every time I’m on TikTok, I get dating advice videos, relationship therapist videos, couples challenges, scandalous breakup stories, and more on my For You Page. Dating and love-based content are constantly popping up online, making dating-focused content more accessible to Gen Z than ever before. Simply consuming this content and learning about buzzwords like “the ick” can make us more likely to recognize those things in our IRL dating experiences.
Popular dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Match, and Christian Mingle have become viable options for finding and falling in love in the digital age, and downloading apps has certainly helped people combat pandemic-induced loneliness over the past few years. A 2021 study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that 36% of American adult respondents reported feeling lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time” in the four weeks leading up to being surveyed. This group included 61% of young people ages 18 to 25, with 43% of young adults reporting increased loneliness since the onset of the pandemic.
While online dating can be a great way to meet potential partners, it can also lead us to nit-pick and overanalyze others’ behaviors and qualities — which could be making us more susceptible to getting the ick.
Plus, Gen Z values independence above all else.
One thing that sets Gen Z apart from millennials is how our collective priorities have shifted over the last several decades. Gen Z is known to be a more entrepreneurial generation than their predecessors, and they tend to value financial independence, career stability, friendships, and independence over romantic relationships. This doesn’t mean we don’t value love at all; it just isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
For example, Haley, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, is currently in a committed, long-distance relationship with her boyfriend of a year and a half — but the idea of dating alone used to give her the ick. “If you would have told me at any point in my life that I would be dating someone long distance in college, I wouldn’t have believed you. The thought of that literally would’ve given me the ick, even just a few semesters ago,” Haley tells Her Campus. “I never thought I would date in college, let alone date long-distance because I have always prioritized my independence over everything else.”
Calyssa, 22, a graduating senior at the University of Oklahoma, tells Her Campus that she’s never been in a romantic relationship before, primarily because she, too, prioritizes her independence over everything. “The idea of dating has given me the ick for a long, long time,” she tells Her Campus. Instead, she has spent her college years exploring her passions and carving out her own path.
“I came to OU really wanting to find myself as an individual and to gain a greater sense of independence,” she says. “In high school, I felt like my group of friends defined me and that I was just going through the motions of school and life with them. Now, I can confidently say that I know my worth and have discovered my passions.”
As the president of her Greek life organization who is working two jobs and beginning the post-grad job hunt, Calyssa says she mainly prioritizes her professional goals — but that she’d still be open to a relationship if the opportunity presented itself. “If the right person comes along for me, I’ll be ready and willing to try my hand at dating,” she tells Her Campus.
Just because members of Gen Z prioritize independence doesn’t mean they aren’t open to falling in love.
Although Gen Z is widely known for its collective ambition, drive, and anti-establishment ways, it doesn’t mean that falling in love is off the table for them. In fact, some students who originally had the ick about relationships are starting to change their minds.
Haley, for instance, never dated during high school and started college with the expectation that her next four years might pan out the same way. She made plans to study abroad, intern and do research, and join several on-campus organizations with her friends. But when she met someone special, things changed.
“Of course, the right person came along when I was least expecting it, and I realized that being in the right relationship can be liberating — you don’t have to lose yourself in it,” Haley tells Her Campus. “I am so happy I had so many years to build a relationship with myself first, but am thankful I get to continue to learn and grow individually, as well as with my partner now.”
if you want to find love, communication & balance are key.
Even though the ick runs rampant throughout our current dating landscape, there’s still hope for those of us who want to find someone — and dare I say — fall in love. Members of Gen Z are more than capable of meeting their matches, and they’re doing so on their own terms.
Gabby, 23, a graduate of Loyola Marymount University’s class of 2021, knew from a young age that she wanted to stick it out with her high school sweetheart — who, as of this past November, is her fiancé. Whether you’re dating someone new or a long-term partner, Gabby says that good communication and openness are key — especially if there’s something bothering you in the relationship.
“My best advice for Gen Z relationships is being honest with your partners and/or potential partners,” she tells Her Campus. “It’s super scary, but if you openly communicate your values, wants, and needs with someone, it makes it much easier to determine if the relationship is one that you want to put work into and see as your forever!”
Gen Z is still open to falling in love (just on their own terms).
To keep the bond between you and your partner strong, Gabby suggests taking the time to do something that appeals to both partners’ love languages. “Definitely focus on making quality time for you and your partner’s needs,” she says. “Take some time away from your phones and do something that makes you both happy.” It could be something as simple as watching a movie together or doing something to boost intimacy.
Dating can be complicated, which is definitely something we Gen Z’ers need to keep in mind as we experiment and learn more about love. And if the ick is a part of that journey, you’re not alone — just remember to give new people a chance, even if something about them gives you the ick at first. Remember: if something puts you off about a person, recognizing the ick isn’t about being mean and picking at their flaws; instead, recognize what’s actually bothering you, and if it’s not working out, simply move on.
Whether your goal is to find the partner of your dreams and fall in love or simply have fun while navigating college life, always listen to your gut, and remember that dating is about exploring relationships in your own way, on your own terms.