The truth behind social media’s viral relationship theories

Confused about whether or not to stay in a relationship? According to social media influencers, these viral relationship theories may hold the answer.

In the digital age, social media has become a go-to source for everything from beauty hacks to cooking tips and, now, even relationship advice.

If you’ve found yourself doomscrolling through TikTok or Instagram, you’ve likely encountered influencers touting viral relationship theories that promise quick fixes for all your romantic woes.

But should you really believe in viral relationship theories?

And should you end your relationship because of one?

Maybe not, according to our experts.

Why are relationship theories so popular?

According to Enriching Lives Psychology principal psychologist Carly Dober, relationship theories are popular because they offer a simple way to navigate the complex nature of relationships.

Not everyone is raised with an understanding of how to be successful in relationships, Carly says, and they may seek answers to relationship stressors or issues that feel like a good fit.

“Relationship theories also offer simple explanations to somewhat very confusing situations, even if they aren’t always correct or helpful,” she adds.

Relationship coach Debbie Rivers says packaging advice into easy, bite-sized explanations is key to the virality of relationship theories on social media.

“They’re catchy, relatable and promise a quick fix for your love life, which is something everyone wants,” Debbie says.

“Plus, they spark conversation and debates, which keeps people scrolling and sharing.”

3 viral relationship theories put to the test

The ‘Dorito Theory’

@celeste.aria_ Have you heard of Dorito Theory? What types of things and experiences falls under it for you? #doritotheory #dopamine #addictivebehaviour #howtostoprotting #rottingtiktok #impulsivebehaviour #howtousetiktokless #howtoeathealthy #howtomotivateyourself #howtoimprove #thoughtexperiment #serotonin #mentalhealth #neuroscience #neurodivergent #adhd ♬ original sound – Celeste Aria

What is it?

The “Dorito Theory” essentially compares relationships to a bag of Doritos, Debbie explains.

“Once you open the bag, you can’t stop until they’re finished,” she says.

“This theory humorously implies that once you start a relationship, it’s hard to end it — just like a bag of Doritos.”

The science behind it

There is no scientific theory to back up the Dorito Theory at all, Carly says, suggesting the concept is merely used as a helpful and general metaphor for many.

“People might find themselves in a relationship that isn’t helpful or healthy, and their self-esteem and wellbeing might have taken a dive,” she says.

“Sometimes, when observing our relationships with a bit of distance, we can see patterns or behaviours that we didn’t see earlier.

“So, while this theory isn’t scientific, if you’re noticing you feel worse after being around or talking to your partner, there might be something to what this metaphor means to you.”

Is there any truth to it?

“While this theory may capture the addictive nature of relationships, it oversimplifies the complexities of human emotions and the factors that influence relationships,” Debbie says.

The ‘Orange Peel Theory’

@screenshothq The orange peel trend is said to be a good indicator of a healthy and strong relationship so social media users have been are putting the theory to the test to see if their significant other makes the cut!🍊 #orangepeeltheory #theorangepeeltheory #couplestiktok #realtionshipgoals #relationships #relationshiptest #datingadvice ♬ bounce (i just wanna dance) – фрози & joyful

What is it?

This theory is all about peeling oranges, and whether or not your partner is willing to do this for you, Debbie says.

“This supposedly suggests that they’re prepared to make sacrifices to prioritise your happiness,” she summarises.

The science behind it

Just like the Dorito Theory, Carly says the “Orange Peel Theory” is deeply unscientific and appears to be more like a test that people might often fail without meaning to.

“If you set people up to fail, they likely will,” she says.

“If someone doesn’t know the parameters of this test, you’ll likely walk away thinking they don’t care about you when there might be one million other things on their mind that have nothing to do with you or how they feel about you.”

This replicates an unhealthy communication model, Carly notes, that implies the expectation that your partner can read your mind, which is quite impossible and unfair to them.

“The helpful and healthy thing to do would be to ask your partner to peel you an orange when you’re hungry for one,” she says.

“I would refrain from testing a partner like this because it would likely hurt your own feelings.”

Is there any truth to it?

While Debbie says it may be true that having your partner peel an orange for you can suggest they have a level of care and consideration for you, the Orange Peel test should not make or break your relationship.

“It is too simplified and consistent actions over time are what is the best indicator of a relationship working,” she advises.

“While peeling an orange may demonstrate kindness and affection, true relationship success hinges on consistent communication, mutual respect and shared values.”

The ‘Ketchup Theory’

@jareenimam Does the ketchup test really predict whether you have a good boyfriend? #relationshiptest #ketchupchallenge #socialcomparison #relationshipchallenge #modernrelationships #greenscreenvideo #greenscreen ♬ original sound – Jareen Imam

What is it?

It turns out there’s no use crying over spilt… ketchup.

This test involves one partner squirting some tomato sauce on a table or a bench before asking their partner to clean it up, Carly explains.

“They then assess how careful the partner is in cleaning (up) the sauce and also assess their competence in cleaning the mess that was not made by them,” she says.

“The challenge alleges that the care in which a partner will clean up another person’s mess demonstrates behaviours that would likely support a relationship, including attention to detail and maturity levels.”

The science behind it

Not surprisingly, Carly says the ketchup challenge also has no scientific basis.

“I would argue that instead of wasting your time testing your partner, you could engage with them in a conversation about whatever might be on your mind,” she says.

Is there any truth to it?

This theory also oversimplifies the nature of relationships and how humans generally work, Debbie adds.

“While your partner may do this at a restaurant, what they do on a day-to-day basis can be totally different,” she says.

“On dates, people can be nervous and not act how they normally do, or this could be a sign of a perfectionist — it can mean so many different things.”

Should social media make or break your relationship?

While relationship advice on social media can be helpful, it should be taken with caution, Carly says.

“People can make very strong claims on social media with no evidence or data to back (these) up,” she explains.

“Too often, people are accessing relationship advice from people who have no idea about the intricacies of their own relationship, and who have no idea about you and your partner.”

If you ever need advice,Carly says it is important to consult a professional or someone who is close to you.

“It’s natural to be confused at some stages of all relationships, and some relationships are more complex and confusing than others,” she explains.

“So, if you are curious about how to communicate or improve your relationship, lean on the people close to you including friends and family and your partner.

“If the relationship is genuinely unhealthy, how they peel an orange or clean a mess shouldn’t give much weight.

“If you are genuinely confused and don’t know how to progress in the relationship, you can always connect to a psychologist who will be able to support you in navigating what can be difficult for many people.”

What are some actual red flags in a relationship?

One of the things to look out for is how your partner treats others, Debbie says.

“If you’re out and the person you’re with is rude to people that serve them or to those around them, that’s definitely a red flag,” she explains, adding that your partner’s actions should always speak louder than words.

“I see a lot of people that will end up dating someone that says the right things, but they don’t ever follow through with actions,” Debbie says.

“People can say anything and words are quite cheap.”

According to Carly, other relationship red flags include:

  • Abusive or controlling behaviour, jealousy, invasions of privacy
  • Attempts to isolate you from your workplace, friends and family
  • Lying
  • Stealing

But, she says, there are also “orange-flag behaviours” — behaviours that might mean you aren’t necessarily a perfect match but that can be worked through with genuine attempt on their part.

“Communication and curiosity are key,” Carly says.

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Written by Melissa Hong.