I’m typically not a fan of couples content on TikTok (you know, the definitely-not-staged pranks, the “boyfriend test,” etc.), but when I started seeing posts of (more often than not) women in heterosexual relationships testing something called the Orange Peel Theory, I was intrigued. The theory goes that if you ask your partner to peel an orange for you and they do it, it's a strong indicator that they love and support you, because they’re performing this small act of kindness. If they refuse, it supposedly a red flag that shows their lack of care and support. Here’s a more in-depth explanation from TikTok user @annabhamm:
The Orange Peel Theory Is Going Viral on TikTok, but Does It Actually Say Anything About the Strength of Your Relationship?
We asked a therapist
The videos under the hashtag #orangepeeltheory—which have racked up 146 million views—vary from vaguely sweet (“aww, he was so eager to peel the orange and then offer to make something else if it wasn’t perfectly ripe”) to downright cringey (“where are this woman’s female friends to tell her to RUN?”). Interested in learning more about the real-life effectiveness of the theory, I reached out to licensed marriage and family therapist Neha Kumar for her professional opinion on whether a piece of fruit can actually tell you anything about the state of your relationship.
Meet the Expert
Neha Kumar, L.M.F.T., is a licensed marriage & family therapist and clinical director at Alter Behavioral Health in California. Kumar provides psychotherapy to adults, adolescents and children and has experience working in a community mental health clinic, drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and both public and private school settings. Kumar draws on a variety of modalities including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), solution‑focused brief therapy and narrative therapy.
Right off the bat, Kumar says that as a therapist she’s not thrilled about social media trends like the orange peel theory. “I think these types of tests are never a good sign,” she explains. “If you feel the need to test your relationship, that is a red flag in and of itself. If you have needs that are not being met, sit down with your partner and communicate those needs in a healthy, honest way—and not, preferably, by secretly recording a video of them and then posting it on social media.”
But let’s say you try the theory and your partner, for whatever reason, doesn’t agree to peel the orange. That’s not necessarily a red, Kumar admits, adding that more context is needed to determine the health of your relationship. She says, “I don't think it's necessarily healthy or fair to generalize or draw conclusions about the state of one's relationship given one specific scenario without any context.” What if the partner has had a bad day or is running late for something, for example. “It's not completely fair and shows questionable judgment and communication skills to judge your significant other and the relationship based off of one interaction. Additionally, reciprocity is important as well. If you're testing your partner, the onus is on you to ask yourself how kind and considerate you are in your relationship.”
If you’re genuinely hoping to gauge the strength of your union, Kumar explains that there are lots of ways to tell how supportive your partner is, including supporting each other's professional goals, personal achievements, hobbies, friendships, etc. In the vein of peeling an orange, acts of service can be a way to show support. “From unloading the dishwasher or folding the laundry to refilling a water bottle without being asked—these are all small acts of kindness and undoubtedly signify care and consideration.” She warns, though, that these needs should be communicated rather than expected. “The more people utilize kindness and healthy communication to work together, recommit and fix negative dynamics, the better chance they will have on creating and sustaining successful partnerships.” If your partner is still reluctant to meet your needs after you’ve communicated, it might be best to talk to a professional.
The bottom line is this: Like many a social media trend before it, the orange peel theory holds little actual weight beyond being a click-y TikTok fad that more often than not seems mostly to serve the purpose of garnering engagement and stirring up controversy in the comments section.