Ever heard of the term “Turkey Drop”? It’s a phrase used to describe the period around Thanksgiving when college freshmen break up with their high school sweethearts while home for the holidays. And while the term might have started with college frosh, it’s certainly not exclusive to just them.
Plenty of people who are faaaar from their college years also find themselves dumped or being dumped around turkey time. If you’re serious enough in the relationship to consider bringing each other back to visit or meet each other’s families, it kinda makes sense that this could be a testing moment. There are a number of reasons why breaking up over the holidays seems to be so common, Dr. Rhonda Mattox, a psychiatrist, explains. Going home for the holidays can mean concerns over the perception of your partner or family about the seriousness of your relationship — not to mention, the situational stress of potentially tense family engagements. “The thought of bringing a spectator to a family gathering can be overwhelming,” Mattox adds.
Regardless of whether or not you’ve got first-hand experience with the turkey drop, we can all agree that it’s pretty fascinating how universally, the holidays can be a make-or-break time for new partners. Here’s a personal account from one writer about her own turkey drop:
I had no idea how cliché it was for me to be dumping my high school boyfriend the night before Thanksgiving, and honestly thank God, because that only would've made it worse.
Like every other pair of 18-year-olds in love, we felt invincible. And so, when I left to go to college in a city that was hours away, we decided to stay together. Nothing could squelch our teenage passion! Not even 200 miles of flat, Texas highway, or the alluring hormones of College Boys! My boyfriend and I Skyped, texted, and did everything we thought might preserve our long-distance relationship.
But, by the time we were both at home for Thanksgiving, we chose one of the playgrounds we'd clocked serious hours making out in to host our break up. I like to think that, in 2011, we were ahead of the curve. But even so, my high school boyfriend and I fell victim to turkey drop season—the treacherous weeks around Thanksgiving where college freshman break up with high school sweethearts before they even take their first finals.
While the turkey drop is typically associated with college freshman, simple statistics about when couples tend to breakup suggest that it's not just for students. In 2010, data journalist Devin McCandless poured over more than 100,000 Facebook profiles, only to find that the biggest spikes in splits happened right after Valentine's Day (ouch!?) and just before spring break—but another significant spike showed up shortly before the Christmas holidays, too.
It would be impossible to estimate the number of couples who participate in the turkey drop on an annual basis, but probably, it's a lot. According to Dr. Michele Kerulis, a professor in Northwestern University's online counseling master's program, those first few months away from home are to blame for this pattern.
"Young adults experiencing college for the first time enter an exciting and challenging developmental stage," she said. "Their current relationship might have met their needs at one time, but as they grow and move into a self-exploration phase of life, they might find that their needs change. Those changing needs could expedite a breakup."
That makes a lot of sense for 18-year-olds who have probably never spent three months away from home, much less lived autonomously in dorms filled with hundreds of their (*cough* horny *cough*) peers. That guy who rocked your world when you still had to eat lunch on a schedule and ask permission to go pee is probably not going to continue rocking your world once you've been exposed to the boundless terrain of a college campus.
But the turkey drop isn't an exclusively collegiate phenomenon—according to Kerulis, the lead up to the holiday season is prime breakup time. "Breaking up before the holidays takes pressure off of new relationships," he says. "Staying in a relationship through the holidays might result in things moving at a faster pace than one or both people are ready for. A pre-Thanksgiving breakup frees someone from feeling 'locked-in' to holiday commitments, like meeting family and gift-giving."
On top of that, as people think about the promise of a clean slate in the new year, they may start to reconsider their relationships, Kerulis adds. This can be effing brutal, but then again, not totally surprising. "People set their sights on something new and exciting, and sometimes, moving out of a relationship is one aspect of change that helps people feel lighter and more ready to move into the new year," Kerulis says.
Similar to feeling pressured to come up with New Year's resolutions at the end of each year, facing the idea of an (arbitrary, but whatever) new beginning can be a motivating factor for leaving a relationship that isn't making you totally happy anymore. And that's definitely not a feeling that's limited to college freshman. Which is all to say that if you've started feeling antsy in your relationship, or feel an impending breakup heading your way, you're far from alone.
Welcome to Turkey Drop season, where no one is safe.
Follow Hannah on Twitter.
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