Have you heard about the 'orange peel theory'? Before this week, I hadn't either. Well, I hadn't heard of it packaged up in this way. But the concept of the 'orange peel theory', which has swept across social media this week, represents a familiar idea. It's about how we show our appreciation for each other in our relationships, whether it's between friends, family, or in a romantic relationship. I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on what the 'orange peel theory' is, and what it tells us about relationships. I've also spoken to The News Movement all about it (you can check out their report here on Instagram) and I've also spoken to HuffPost all about it (you can check out the article here). And in January 2024 I chatted to Alice Hopkins all about it for BBC Radio Berkshire in the Sunday Psychology slot. You can listen to it here on Soundcloud.
What is the 'orange peel theory'?
How do you know whether someone really cares about you? Is it a grand gesture, broadcast for all to see? Or is it the small, everyday things that make us feel as if someone else is looking out for us. This is the underlying idea behind the 'orange peel theory'. That if someone takes the time and energy to peel your orange for you, they are displaying how they feel about you. This act demonstrates that they know exactly what makes you happy, and that they are happy to commit to doing something that will improve your day.
In some ways, it builds on the idea of 'Acts of Service', popularised by the book 'The Five Love Languages' by Gary Chapman. In this case, peeling an orange is considered an 'act of service', a demonstrable way of communicating how we care about somebody else. The key part of the 'orange peel theory' is that it demonstrates an intimate understanding of someone else's likes and dislikes. It's not just about peeling citrus fruit. It's about knowing exactly what might cheer someone up, make someone smile, offer them that warm glow that they know that they are cared for.
So what does the 'orange peel theory' reveal about our relationships?
Love, intimacy and connection are not just built on any one event or action. They grow over time, and are built on a foundation that is based on how we treat each other.
In counselling we often think about the concept of 'attunement'. This is about tuning into each other, being present, supporting and validating how someone is feeling. This is what I really like about the 'orange peel theory', that it highlights the importance of tuning in to the small things that bring pleasure to someone else's day. This can boost our confidence and self-esteem.
Relationships aren't always based on explicitly telling each other how we feel about each other. Voicing our affection comes easily to some people, and is more challenging for others. But carrying out, or being the recipient, of 'acts of service' can help us to strengthen our bonds without needing to find the words.
'Peeling an orange' can also be useful to de-escalate conflict. If you're feeling stuck after a difficult conversation or event, then an 'act of service' for someone else can help to ease the tension when words fail us.
Can 'peeling an orange' solve all our relationship problems, or are there any 'red flags' to watch out for?
Kind gestures speak volumes. But I'd suggest that in the long term, they are no replacement for words. So if you find yourself regularly resorting to 'peeling an orange' in order to show affection or apologise or cope with conflict, then it's worth reflecting on what's going on. Consider why it feels easier, or safer, for you to carry out an action than to voice how you are feeling. Perhaps there's an underlying fear that's worth exploring.
Not everyone wants to have their oranges peeled for them. For some people, acts of service of this nature might be considered patronising or stifling. That's why the 'orange peel theory' is all about having that knowledge of the other person, and tuning in to them.
The 'orange peel theory' works when it's a two-way relationship. I'm not talking about a 'tit-for-tat': 'you peel my oranges and I'll peel yours' arrangement. But it's important for it to be within a context of a relationship where there is give and take. If not, the 'orange peel theory' is likely to simply highlight any dissatisfaction or fissures in your relationship.
If you like exploring these ideas, then check out my previous post on the 'Let Them theory'. It's another idea that went viral on Tiktok, and tells us a lot about how we feel about each other.
Keen to explore more?
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