Like one of those secretly mordant fairy tales about mermaids sacrificing their fins or maidens poisoned and sleeping forever, there is apparently a new test to tell if love is true: fetch and denude me an orange.
The gist: If your partner strips the rind off the citrus and serves it to you with kindness, then their love is for real. If your partner refuses, then this love is hollow and false, and you must now make a deal with a sea witch or reenter the dating pool. This deeply unscientific experiment, known colloquially as the orange peel theory/test/trend, is usually administered by heterosexual women on their male partners. And because of its simplicity and clarity, and social media’s penchant for anything that creates a reaction, the test has gone viral on TikTok.
Some videos of men peeling or not peeling oranges for their partners have millions of views. Millions!
Does separating citrus from its skin really indicate true love? What happened to building the Taj Mahal or, you know, buying some diamonds? Should women carry a mandarin around at all times just to be sure?
“An entire intimate relationship can’t be boiled down to what a partner does or doesn’t do with an orange,” says Alexandra Solomon, a psychologist and author who teaches at Northwestern University and specializes in relationships. As Solomon explains, one does not need to throw a romantic partner away like an orange rind because they did not peel a fruit in a pleasant way.
Even though the orange peel trend isn’t necessarily going to determine the veracity of someone’s love, Solomon says, the test’s popularity and what people want from it speak to things — our fears, insecurities, desires — that are indeed important, orange or no orange.
Alexandra, tell me, what are your first reactions to these relationship test videos?
My first reaction is that I always want to bring compassion and curiosity to a conversation about social media trends because social media trends take off the way they do because they point us toward a human need or longing.
Sure. These videos are about peeling oranges, but they’re so popular because they hit something deeper.
Right. It seems like the question that’s being asked is: Are you there for me? Or, to what degree are you willing or able or wanting to take care of me? So that’s my first thought: What are people asking about or seeking when they do this test?
The worry that I have is that I prefer us to talk directly to our partners about our needs rather than setting up a test. And certainly, rather than setting up a test that goes public, because I think the risk here is humiliation.
There’s also a “name a woman” trend where women ask their partners to name one — but the secret “right” answer is the woman he’s dating. As a relationship expert, is there any scientific basis in these “tests?” Like someone just decided that it’s a good thing when men peel oranges and name women.
I don’t think there’s any science. I’m not aware of any scientific basis behind any of these tests.
Okay, and this is some serious extrapolation here. [Psychologist, relationship expert, and founder of the Gottman Institute] John Gottman’s research shows that happy couples have really nuanced, detailed, internalized “love maps,” he calls them. I can tell you pretty easily what my partner’s worrying about these days, what my partner is excited about these days, my partner’s favorite foods, and whatnot.
Having a rich, detailed love map of your partner is a sign of a healthy and happy, thriving relationship. So maybe some of these tests — the name a woman test — is really a question of: Where do I live on your love map? Am I front of mind? Am I centered in your love? But then again, what I would rather do is have couples sit side by side with each other or sit face to face and have conversations where they’re asking and answering interesting questions or engaging in activities together rather than quizzing each other.
Is it by and large women testing their boyfriends?
Yeah. It seems to mostly be cis women in straight relationships testing their male partners.
I think there’s something there and how this plays into cis-hetero socialization. Because women are socialized to be of service to others, I think it’s really uncomfortable for women to ask for what they need. Therefore women, especially women who are partnered with men, tend to want their partners to read their mind because that way, they can bypass the discomfort of having to ask for what they need.
The healthy thing to do is say, “Honey, I would love it so much if you would get me an orange, peel it, put it in a little bowl, you know, and even break it down into little sections for me.” Just ask for what you need.
That makes sense, because the crux of these tests is about what’s not being asked. And what you’re saying is that women are taught to anticipate people’s needs and taught not to ask for any of their own.
For women, there’s a stigma for asking for things. There’s a deep fear of being seen as greedy or needy or selfish.
As someone who does not partake in hetero relationships, does this mean men are not taught to anticipate women’s needs? Like, if women are taught not to vocalize what they want, are men taught not to ask women what they want?
Women are taught that their value lies in being able to anticipate any needs. So very often women are meeting men’s needs before men even know they have them, or before they’ve articulated them. But I think where it leaves men is oftentimes feeling confused.
I feel like I spend so much time in couples therapy working on this dynamic with men, where they’re just like, “Oh my god, ask me for what you need, and I will do it.”
There are so many ways, so many different ways, that people demonstrate care.
Maybe your partner doesn’t peel the orange, but your partner goes for a walk with you and talks to you for an hour about a crisis that happened at work. Maybe they don’t peel the orange, but they take your mom out to lunch to boost her spirits. I want people to keep a really wide perspective on all the ways that partners can and do show up for each other that can’t be summarized or captured in one gesture or one way of showing love.
It seems like these tests aren’t that different from what you’d see in magazines like Cosmo. Like those, “Is he the one?” type of quizzes from junior high and high school. Do you think these social media tests are just newer, digital iterations of stuff that’s been around forever?
“How strong are we as a couple?” and “Is this relationship worth continuing to invest in?” — these are perennial questions that people have always had about our relationships. And it’s this new iteration that introduces a public-facing element to it.
Every single person in a relationship has questions about “Are we going to be okay?” because it’s so risky — loving somebody is so risky. We have so much invested in relationships and they make us feel so vulnerable.
Also, if your partner passes a test and you share it on social media, it feels like there’s something kind of like social media bragging. I think that means there’s a need for external validation.
Well, what makes this so appealing is that these tests — they’re instant, they’re visual, there’s dialogue — are good for TikTok and social media. They’re meant to be shared. How much of that sharing is a dopamine hit?
I think there’s a really interesting question that I want people to ask themselves: “Okay, what’s motivating me to share or make this video?” Can they get in touch with a part of them that craves social approval and external validation for their relationship? And then if they can get in touch with that, then ask: Why?
I mean, the why is, in part, biological — it’s a dopamine hit. But I think there’s probably some really interesting, deeper whys that have to do with these videos.
Maybe someone grew up in a family system where their parents’ marriage was really dysfunctional and this relationship is worth celebrating and bragging about. Or it may be that someone grew up feeling deeply neglected by their parents, and to have a partner who would peel them an orange, it’s a victory, or it heals this old wound.
Well, it could also be: I finally have a hot boyfriend who peels me oranges.
Right? Like that could be my 11-year-old self that felt like an ugly duckling!
If we at least tend to that part of us that had the experience of feeling rejected or feeling ostracized or feeling shame — if we can’t tend to that part of us, then we’re just gonna be forever in this loop of like, what’s the next video or what’s the next test?
Let’s be clear: If you really love your partner, and they fail this test, you’re not going to put that on social media.
I hope so, but I’m sure there are some fail videos that go viral.
My last question to you, is there any kind of two-minute test that could boil down a relationship and tell me if my partner is the one?
No, there is not.
So you shouldn’t throw away your relationship if your partner doesn’t peel you an orange.
You should not. But maybe you should say, “I’d love it if you peeled me an orange” or “I love it when you provide me with a little snack.” Teach your partner what loving you well means.