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Is the ‘orange peel theory’ really a good test of your relationship?

Comparing apples with oranges: could fruit hold the key to your relationship? (Getty/iStock)
Comparing apples with oranges: could fruit hold the key to your relationship? (Getty/iStock)

As with many things popularised by TikTok, the “orange peel theory” could, at first glance, appear to be a supreme oversimplification of something defined by complex nuances. The idea runs thus: if your partner loves you, they will perform small tasks for you that you are perfectly capable of doing yourself, almost as an act of service. One such task being, for example, peeling an orange for you, because you don’t like doing it. According to the theory’s proponents, your partner’s response can be taken as a major indicator of the wider relationship – signifying whether someone is prepared to do things solely to make you happy.

It gained mainstream traction in November 2023, and has recently gone viral again after a woman called Shelby seemingly put the theory to the test, quite literally, and posted the results to social media. In the video, which sees her sitting in frame with her boyfriend out of view, she says she really wants an orange; he duly tosses one to her. She then tells him, “I really want it, but I hate peeling it. It just gets really messy. I have nails and it’ll get underneath them.” Her partner’s response to this quandary? “Tough luck, buddy!”

“As if I don’t do enough,” he adds. “Figure your life out, it’s not all about what your man can do for you. It’s about what you can do for yourself.” She posits the theory: “A good boyfriend would peel this for me or do something that I’m perfectly capable of [doing]… I can do it myself but the point is that you would do it for me. As an act of service.”

“A great boyfriend would tell you to do it yourself,” he replies. “I’m trying to make you strong and independent and build you up as a female!” This brief foray into female empowerment is quickly countered by his conclusion: “You’re not even that special, that’s the thing. It’s like get that in your f***ing skull, dude. You’re really not that special.”

It’s unclear whether the video was real or, far more likely, a skit devised to garner engagement – an occupational hazard when watching anything on the internet these days – but the more than 20 million viewers of the original clip were far from happy with her boyfriend’s response.

“I really hope this is a joke cause I’d be LEAVING HIM after he said ‘you’re really not that special’, HELL NO,” one viewer commented on TikTok. Another wrote: “I was in this relationship a year ago and now I’m with a man that doesn’t even let me carry my purse. Leave.”

So is it really a good litmus test for whether your relationship is healthy – and whether your partner loves you? “A general sign of a healthy relationship involves give and take and a genuine, reciprocal interest in what makes our partner happy,” says dating and relationship coach Kate Mansfield. Beware of “oversimplification”, she warns. “We all need to be willing to accommodate and satisfy our partner’s needs and wants – but only up to a point. Balance here is key and getting super specific in this way, creating an oversimplification, can cause people to believe that they are not loved – when in fact there is just a lack of agreed-upon expectations and boundaries in the relationship.”

If your partner does not show a regular desire to please you or is not showing interest in making you happy, that would be a significant red flag for the relationship

Jane Parker, relationship coach

Relationship coach Jane Parker, meanwhile, calls the theory a “generalisation” – it only holds up for certain types of people. “If your love language is ‘acts of service’, then it could be a valid need in the relationship that your partner also likes to show love by doing things for you. To some, it would be very important, as they perceive doing simple tasks such as making a cup of tea as an act of love. For others, it is not necessary or important and they perceive love and feel loved in different ways.”

“Love languages” is its own theory, based around the premise that there are five main ways of expressing love – acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch and gifts – and that each of us naturally gravitates towards one or two when giving or receiving love.

If the small things do matter to you, a partner’s consistent refusal to accommodate that could be a sign that your dynamic is out of kilter, though. It can indicate “an unhealthy or toxic relationship that is unbalanced,” says Mansfield. “We really want to be looking at the overall picture and not isolated things, though – and, most importantly, we need to communicate directly and openly about what we want.”

Not a-peeling: testing your partner is a no-no, according to experts (Getty/iStock)
Not a-peeling: testing your partner is a no-no, according to experts (Getty/iStock)

Parker agrees that “if your partner does not show a regular desire to please you or is not showing interest in making you happy, that would be a significant red flag for the relationship. You need to feel [important] in your relationship and these small acts show that our partners care and are present for us.”

Ultimately, it’s all about good, open communication. “You may have chosen a partner who simply doesn’t perceive the value in doing such things,” she adds. “That’s not to say that they won’t do them in future if they realise that it is important to you. If they do know it is meaningful to you and they refuse, then your needs may not be able to be met in the relationship. It would require effective communication to help your partner to understand what you need to make it work for you.”

Testing our partner to gauge the level of love based on social media trends is a dangerous game

Kate Mansfield, Dating and relationship coach

The issue with the TikTokification of a simple but fairly unproblematic relationship theory is, in this case, that it sparked a trend of women putting their partners to the test – purposely asking them to perform small tasks, just to see if they would.

This kind of social experiment definitely isn’t conducive to a healthy relationship, the experts warn. “It doesn’t seem fair to use it as a fast track to knowing whether their partner is ‘right’ for them,” says Parker. “We get to know people over time, through many interactions and responses. To judge someone on one response to that test would be unfair and could be inaccurate.”

Mansfield goes a step further. “Testing our partner to gauge the level of love based on social media trends is a dangerous game,” she says. “It is definitely not a sign of a healthy relationship – rather, it’s a covert communication style that can cause more harm than good. Using oversimplification like this is really setting our partner up to fail. We all have different love languages – interpreting your partner’s willingness to perform small tasks like this, as a sign of how much they really love you, is misleading.”

“It’s how your partner makes you feel overall that is the true test,” Parker adds. So maybe stick to peeling your own oranges for now – and base the health of your relationship on more than just fruit.