Can Your Relationship Pass The “Orange Peel Test”? Does It Even Matter?

The test, which has 58 million views and counting on TikTok, has led to a lot of chatter about what makes a happy relationship. The discourse is better than the challenge itself

by Graham Techler
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

We all want to feel that our partner is attuned to our needs. But what if there was a simple test to establish just how attuned they are? That’s what’s being promised on TikTok by the “orange peel” test — a relationship test currently having a viral moment, with its hashtag receiving over 58.2 million views on the platform. It goes like this: Ask your partner to peel an orange for you. If they do, this signals an overall willingness to assist you with small tasks. If the orange remains unpeeled, however, they’ll be less likely to support you as the relationship continues.

The core of the idea — that small, cumulative gestures play a significant part in the success of our relationships — arguably has its antecedents in clinically respected circles of thought. Celebrated psychologist John Gottman famously developed the idea of “Bids for Connection” (a request for your partner’s attention) as well as the “5:1 Ratio” (the notion that you should try to outweigh every negative interaction in your relationship with five positive ones).

But does the orange peel test itself, with its binary, pass-fail worldview, really hold water? Or does it reduce a more complicated series of indicators in a way that does no one any favors?

Grading On A Curve

The virality of the theory does suggest that it is speaking to something in the audience beyond their penchant for quick answers.

“The orange peel theory essentially highlights the importance of paying attention and taking action in a relationship,” says psychologist Brandy Smith. “Noticing what your loved one says helps them feel cared for.”

The test’s widespread popularity should largely be taken as a reminder to check in with yourself as to how attentive you’ve been to your partner’s needs, and how actively you’ve broadcast your own needs in return. It can also serve as a reminder to pay attention to the intention of your actions and their impact.

Relationship stability and quality is more about consistency of effort rather than periodic gestures.

“You may discover that you are investing time and energy into something you think helps your loved one feel cared for that actually does not [help],” says Smith. “We can have caring intentions, but if it's not the specific way our loved one receives or feels care, it will miss the mark. We need feedback so that our time and effort are invested in actions that have a congruence between intent and impact.”

“The prevailing wisdom is that we should want to go out of our way when possible to help and support our partner,” adds therapist Frank Thewes. “I can see space for a test like this early on in a relationship just to see where someone is with you.”

Gatekeeping With An Orange

But that doesn’t mean the orange peel test should, or even could, contain all the answers to your larger compatibility questions. Nor does it mean that the specific context of the orange peel test makes it very trustworthy as a bellwether.

“As presented on TikTok, [the orange peel test] is fundamentally a gatekeeping test for a relationship partner,” says Thewes. “It’s like the SAT for your partner, but they don’t know they’re taking a test. Relationship stability and quality is more about consistency of effort rather than periodic gestures. It’s also about the ability of your partner to hear you communicate your needs and respond.”

Information gathering is normal and healthy in a relationship when it’s not presented as a test like this. And any act of service can substitute for the somewhat arbitrary orange peeling request — it could just as easily be bringing in stuff from the car, picking up the kids, or refilling the pantry essentials without a reminder.

Why we need an orange peel theory or test, when people can communicate their needs to their partner clearly?

But this information gathering will be more productive when your partner knows that they’re being asked to rise to the occasion in small ways because of what it tells you about your relationship in a broader sense.

“Communicate clearly with your partner if small acts of service are incredibly significant for you,” suggests Thewes. “Don’t make people read minds or guess. You’ll get your needs met much more efficiently if you ask for them. ‘Honey, it feels so great when you peel the oranges for me. I know you know I can do it but these small things make me feel loved by you.’”

Emotional Needs Versus Physical Help

Ultimately, the theory also doesn’t help extrapolate all that much about your partner’s willingness and readiness to help you with things you might voluntarily rank higher on your hierarchy of emotional needs than the status of your orange.

“What comes to mind here is: why [do] we need an orange peel theory or test, when people can communicate their needs to their partner clearly and then see if their partner can meet those needs?” concludes Thewes. “That, to me, makes more sense for building a deep and stable relationship.”

It is the smaller, more frequent acts of care that keep people consistently connected

This is not the lesson, by and large, that the Internet seems to have taken from their exposure to this theory on TikTok. One recent post on Reddit (the most rigorously fact-checked source of relationship anecdotes and one that speaks for the broader population, I know) asked if the poster was in the wrong for breaking up with her boyfriend for failing a variation on the test. This would be an example of the ironic effect the parameters of an orange peel test actually have on the magnitude of the act of service in question — it turns it into a grand gesture.

“Grand gestures can be fun and exciting,” says Smith, “but it is the smaller, more frequent acts of care that keep people consistently connected. Feeling a sense of connection with our partner, in which we genuinely feel cared for, is a better gauge of compatibility than a viral test.”