College Life: Long-Distance Relationships and the Turkey Drop

When High School Sweethearts Break Up as College Freshman


Is your college kid coming home for Thanksgiving and excited about that reunion with his or her high school sweetheart? Young people change quickly over those first few months and, as a parent, you may want to be aware of the 'Turkey Drop.'

What is the Turkey Drop?

Many high school sweethearts try to sustain a long-distance relationship after they both leave for college. The sad, unromantic truth is that most of those relationships end in break-ups. Distance, the temptations of new possible romances and the inevitable thrill of being young and on their own can all contribute to relationships coming to an end.

In fact, so many freshman couples split over Thanksgiving weekend that college administrators have actually given the phenomenon a name. They call it the Turkey Drop

Why the Thanksgiving Break-Up?

Turkey Drop may sound harsh, but college is a time for many changes. Students meet new people and develop new interests. When students head off into that world with a long-distance relationship, that relationship can change very quickly and for many reasons.

A new freshman - your child or their sweetheart - may feel like they are tied down and unable to fully engage in college life. They often feel guilty about having fun with other people or simply grow in different directions as they have new experiences.

In the midst of those first three months of long-distance loneliness, they can also find comfort with someone else. 

The split may have been brewing for a long time. Sometimes it is mutual and sometimes just one part of the couple feels that it is time to call it quits. And yet, neither party wanted to sever the relationship via text or a phone call. That is just too impersonal.

Then comes Thanksgiving and, suddenly, they are face to face once more. And the sparks that fly? Well, they are not always the good kind.

This may seem devastating when it happens, but in the long run it's a good thing to be unencumbered by relationships that are based on brief visits during school breaks and FaceTime conversations. If a romance is truly meant to be, the young couple will find their way back to each other in the future - but don't count on it. Growth and change during college can be dramatic and permanent.

How Can Parents Help with Turkey Drop?

If your newly returned college freshman finds themselves mid-breakup over the holiday, they may need a little extra support from their family.

Here are a few things that you can do to help.

  • They may be distraught or irritable. Keep a loving eye on him or her and cut them a little extra slack. 
  • Make yourself available, but don't push. Offer to listen and don't be offended if they reject your offer. 
  • Tell him you understand this is tough and remind them that the hurt will eventually pass. If you had a similar experience - whether in college or later in life - now would be a good time to share your painful breakup story.
  • Don't tell him that you knew this would never work or enumerate all the ways their boyfriend or girlfriend was ghastly.
    • The "I told you so" approach is neither kind nor helpful.
    • The "I never liked him/her" tells your child you never trusted his choice and it can backfire if the couple reunites.

And finally, realize that if that high school beau was a family favorite, your whole family may feel the loss. Some families manage to remain close to their children's exes, but it can be difficult, particularly in the early stages.

Be kind to yourself, as well as your child. If that involves some Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia for you, as well as your child, that's OK. This too will pass.