Thanksgiving might be the quintessential American holiday. Sure, the Fourth of July and Christmas are viable options, but Thanksgiving—with its focus on food, family and tradition, absent one exclusive faith’s deep religious significance—is hard not to want to buy into.
It’s also, unfortunately, a holiday that has a tinge of romantic heartbreak associated with it—in the form of the infamous “turkey drop.”
What is a turkey drop?
If the average dating slang term is something that’s cropped up over the past decade (if not in the past year or two), the turkey drop has a bit of a lengthier history. Yes, people have been talking about Thanksgiving breakups in slangy terms—”turkey dump” is another variant—as far back as the 1980s.
Essentially, a turkey drop is when someone in a long-distance relationship comes home from college for Thanksgiving, and a breakup happens over the holiday.
Either party can be the one to initiate it, and only one of the parties needs to be in college for it to count as a turkey drop, but it needs to happen during the Thanksgiving break when both people in a long-distance relationship are home.
What causes the turkey drop?
So why is Thanksgiving such a theoretically popular time to break up with someone, particularly if you’re home from college?
“The turkey drop happens because of timing,” said New York-based dating coach Connell Barrett. “With Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s fast approaching—and all the romantic trappings that come with them—Thanksgiving feels like the unhappy partner’s last, best chance to end things for a few months.”
And why is it a big deal for college students in particular?
“Thanksgiving becomes the right time to end a relationship because it may be the first time the couple has seen each other face-to-face since the start of their long-distance relationship,” Barrett said.
If you began dating in high school or over the course of the summer, and then one of you went away in late August or early September for school, you’re roughly three months into being long-distance. For many young people, that’s long enough to realize things aren’t working out.
“By Thanksgiving, the problems that come with a long-distance relationship have reared their ugly heads,” Barrett said. “And college brings with it new social circles, new prospective partners and newfound internal changes.” Given the personality growth and change that happens to many people in their late teens and early 20s, it’s also fair to say that you may not be the same people you were when you began dating.
Is there a way to avoid the turkey drop?
Now that you know what a turkey drop is, your first thought might be, “How can I prevent this from happening to me?” It’s a reasonable thing to wonder if you’re in a long-distance relationship and Thanksgiving is approaching.
“If you worry your partner may drop you, the first thing to realize is that it’s beyond your control,” Barrett said. “Dating long-distance puts you at an inherent disadvantage. Proximity gives other potential suitors an edge, and if your current [significant other] has simply outgrown your relationship, it’s best to accept that.”
In short, you can’t necessarily avoid it.
“But,” Barrett said, “you can take steps. Relationships end because one or both sides no longer feel a strong romantic connection, so take action to stay connected.”
What that looks like will be up to you, but Barrett suggests not just sticking to the same old, same old.
“Communicate regularly and creatively—instead of just texting, send each other video and audio clips to stay on each other’s minds,” he said. Other creative options include video chatting while watching a show or movie together. Personalized gifts—where affordable—can also go a long way.
“The more you stay on their mind and make them feel a connection, the better your chances of enjoying Thanksgiving with them, rather than getting turkey-dropped,” he concluded.
Signs you might get turkey-dropped
Because the turkey drop is such a specific kind of breakup, many people/relationships may not need to worry or be particularly at risk. Unless you’re an American college student in a long-distance relationship, most likely in your first semester, you can’t be turkey dropped in the formal sense of the phrase—though people may still break up around Thanksgiving regardless of their relationship situation.
That being said, if you’re a young American in a long-distance relationship and either you or your partner is in college, you might wonder what the signs of an impending turkey dump look like. Of course, there’s no way to be 100% sure, but there are some fairly strong indications:
- You’ve noticed your partner has seemed more distant, less affectionate, less romantic or less attracted to you over the course of the semester.
- You’re speaking less often than you used to, or your conversations don’t last as long.
- You haven’t yet made any plans to see each other over the Christmas break.
- Your partner has mentioned a specific new friend a lot, and you’re feeling jealous.
- Your partner asked to see you over Thanksgiving in a way that felt different than in the past.
Of course, none of these signs are a guarantee that your relationship’s fate is sealed, but if some or many of these sound familiar, it could be a sign that a difficult conversation, if not a full breakup, is on the horizon this Thanksgiving.
Waiting for the other turkey to drop
There’s no real data on how common turkey drops are, so as with any other dating trend, it might be more sizzle than steak. That said, the fact that the legend of the turkey drop has been around for so long suggests there’s something to the trend.
But whether you’re in a long-distance relationship in college or not, there are dating lessons for anyone facing the specter of the Thanksgiving breakup: Relationships are most likely to succeed when you put in the effort to make the other person feel valued. If the relationship feels distant, unromantic and boring, it could be a sign that it’s just not meant to be.
But in the long run, breaking up with someone who’s not making you happy could be step one on your journey to finding someone who’s right for you—and that’s something to be genuinely thankful for.