Ask Billie

Ask Billie: “How do I get past the ick?”

Stylist’s columnist Billie Bhatia on how to deal with an icky situation. 

“I’m 34 and I haven’t had a relationship that has lasted more than six months. I seem to hit the ‘ick’ hurdle at the same stage with every guy I date. Something small but significant to me crops up and I find it really hard to get past. My friends think I’m just being picky, but to me, some of these icks are in “red flag” territory. I’m not getting any younger, so should I just work out how to get over them? And if so, how do I even do that?” 

The “ick” hurdle. I know it well. That cruel, sometimes unexpected stumbling block, when you think you are almost at the finish line of making a relationship stick. So, as a single 32-year-old that has had a similar experience to you, I hear you.

I was recently on holiday with some girlfriends, and one night we spent the majority of dinner listing all the icks that made our toes curl. The hilarity of the evening was partly down to recalling some of the situations we had found ourselves in when these icks became apparent and partly down to how ridiculous some of these icks were. 

For example, I know it’s ridiculous that the sight of light blue jeans and black shoes makes me nauseous, but that doesn’t change how I feel whenever I see a guy wearing this combination. For one of my friends, it’s men who take mirror selfies. For another, the ick comes full force when emojis are overused. As for the internet, the collective ick is apparently when people clap as a plane lands (apologies if that’s you – but also, please stop). 

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However, the problem with icks and red flags, as we discovered over this dinner, is that thanks to social media’s obsessions with them, they have blurred into one and the same thing. In the most traditional sense of the phrase, icks represent the opposite of attraction. Red flags, on the other hand, are signs of poor or worrying behaviour that result in non-negotiable relationship dealbreakers.

The first time I experienced a red flag was in relation to someone who didn’t know his limits when drinking. He fundamentally changed (for the worse) as a person when he drank, and the red flag was that he was aggressive, rude and unreliable. However, the last time I used ‘red flag’ when describing a date was when he ordered tuna for his starter and for his main at dinner. This resulted in me never seeing him again. Was his love of tuna a red flag? No. Did his enthusiasm for ordering two of the same things for dinner give me the ick? Yes. Was it justified when I have been known to order pasta with a side of fries? Definitely not.

What I am digging into here is whether the hurdles you are hitting at the six-month mark of relationships are simply highlighting your preferences (as in, what you don’t want in a relationship) or are they flagging something more serious. And I ask this because we are both women in our 30s, so we have come to know what we like and what we don’t like. Which has its positives and negatives. The positive is that we are direct and decisive. The negative – and I am speaking on behalf of myself here – is that sometimes that attitude makes me inflexible to what other people want. Often resulting in an ick. 

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That isn’t to trivialise all icks because if these irritations transform into characteristics that you find off-putting, for more reasons than just preference (ie a red flag), then you are right in ending the relationship. Sometimes there is no coming back from an ick, and if that’s how you feel, I support you. However, sometimes it might be worth pushing through a poorly ordered meal or a questionable outfit choice for the sake of giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

As for your friends who think you are picky, I was really affronted recently when a friend said the same thing about me. To which I replied: “When I said it was John Krasinski or nothing, I didn’t actually mean nothing.” I wholeheartedly think women should be picky. It’s not like you’re just reaching for an apple in the supermarket; you’re looking for someone who you potentially want to spend the rest of your life with. It would be foolish not to be picky. 

But – and, again, I say this to myself as much as I am saying it to you – no one is perfect. Even John Krasinski. You are entitled to know what you want and I encourage you not to settle for anything less, but you do have to ask yourself what can you compromise on. I have come to realise it’s not a total “thank you, next” situation if a guy isn’t as passionate about Wimbledon as I am. Maybe what your friends should have said is (because this is what mine said to me): don’t lower your standards, just be more open-minded. 

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And lastly, on your point about not getting any younger. None of us are. Today is the youngest you will ever be, but that is not a reason to give up on what you want and deserve. If you want a relationship to last beyond the six-month ick hurdle, it absolutely can. There is a possibility that before now, you haven’t wanted those relationships to because of one reason or another, and that has manifested itself in icks that have acted as dealbreakers. So, try and remove your age from the equation, because this isn’t about that. This is about what you want right now. And if you want a relationship to succeed, the right person, an open mind and a desire to meet in the middle on some things will get you there.

Ask Billie anything on Instagram @stylistmagazine

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Photography: Sarah Brick, hair and make-up: Patrizia Lio at S management using Kevin Murphy and Nars