Helen met a boy during freshman orientation. Though the two of them were soon “hanging out” (ahem) on a daily basis, he resisted labels like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” because he’d only recently broken up with his high school sweetheart. Their top-bunk romance came to abrupt, confusing end after Thanksgiving. Eventually, Helen figured out that he’d rekindled his relationship with his hometown ex. “He didn’t see why I was mad,” Helen said. “After all, they had only ever been ‘on a break.'” After six months of dating, Jason’s boyfriend “disappeared.” He grew distant, preoccupied with work and slow to respond to texts, before finally dumping Jason over the phone right before – I think you see where this is going – Thanksgiving.
This is common. Really common. So common, in fact, that the phenomenon has a name – one you may already know. It’s called the Turkey Dump, a term perhaps more befitting of a memorable bowel movement than a nationwide emotional crisis. Rather than tryptophan-induced sociopathy, this late-November breakup spree is a social byproduct of the impending holiday season. The Turkey Dump is unusually robust among college kids, many of whom are still dating significant others from high school. For most students, the Thanksgiving break is the academic calendar’s first opportunity to return home and end things in person. Erin left for college 100 percent committed to her high school boyfriend. At least, she thought she was. “I believed I was thoroughly in love with him, would stick out the distance (a two-hour drive) from school to his hometowns,” she said. But Erin quickly realized that her relationship wasn’t compatible with the social immersion of the college experience. After he came for an unsatisfying weekend visit, her feelings began to cool. Then she met Matt. When he drove her home for Columbus Day weekend, there was an immediate connection. “During the whole visit, my mind was off my boyfriend and on Matt and the inside jokes we’d shared on the ride home,” she said. She broke up with her boyfriend the week before Thanksgiving. After the holiday, she joined Matt’s carpool back to campus. It was there, “in the backseat of somebody’s mom’s van,” that she reached for Matt’s hand. They dated for three years. But the Turkey Dump isn’t the sole province of students. Tom and Frank were together for almost two years when, as Tom puts it, they “slowly began to fall out of sync.” They tried everything they could to make it work, before taking a week off from contacting each other before Thanksgiving. After that, Tom knew what he had to do. “I came back to New York and wrote him the most heartbreaking email I’ve ever had to write,” he said. “And that was it.” For Tom, Thanksgiving meant spending time with his brothers, all three of whom were married or close to it. Though his family had met Frank, they also knew that the couple had been having problems. “I was feeling anxious knowing I was going to be home for nearly a week, surrounded by all these people who still loved each other, and there I was going to be, the one with his relationship crumbling in his hands,” Tom explained. Thanksgiving breakups fall, generally, into two broad categories. New relationships – and especially those new enough not to have been properly christened “relationships” yet – can falter from a loss of momentum during the week spent apart in your respective hometowns. More serious relationships – but not quite serious relationships – can easily buckle under the pressure. “The holidays are manipulative,” Jason said, characterizing this time of year as a “wormhole” for couples. You may have a sense of where you are when it begins, but there’s no telling what condition you’ll be in on the other side. His advice to couples is to start talking about holiday expectations as early as August.
“Proceed with caution and don’t fly blind,” he suggests. Angela, who was Turkey Dumped after a three-month relationship, thinks the holidays represent a particularly difficult obstacle for relationships that begin in late summer and early fall. Does this mean it’s time to introduce your boyfriend to the family? Should you attend Thanksgiving at his Aunt Sue’s house? Will your grandmother knit him Christmas stocking with his name on it? Questions like these – which aren’t easy for anyone, really – loom even larger when a relationship is relatively untested. Angela suspects that holiday-related doubts had gotten to her ex. “For the record, they scared the shit out of me, too,” she added, noting that she doesn’t bear a grudge towards him. This is what surprises me the most about the Turkey Dump. It seems, overwhelmingly, that neither party involved regrets what happened. Soulmates and would-be spouses aren’t falling victim to the Turkey Dump. Instead, it claims couples who – despite everything they do have going for them – aren’t built to last. The social pressures of the holidays may be external and largely arbitrary, but they’re nevertheless pressures. If you can’t sustain them, that doesn’t bode well for how you’ll fare against the many more bracing challenges that every couple can expect to face. Every year since 1989, the president has “pardoned” a turkey and spared its life on Thanksgiving. Though the White House might like you to believe otherwise, these birds (bred for size, not longevity) almost never survive to see the next November. I hesitate to liken either you or your partner to a turkey, but there’s a lesson here. Yes, you could postpone a breakup until after Thanksgiving in an attempt to spare someone’s feelings, but will that really change anything? This is not to say that, in the short term, the Turkey Dump isn’t as excruciating as any breakup. In some cases, it’s worse. For Angela, that December was “absolute hell.” It’s one thing to be single during the holidays, but entirely another to be heartbroken – especially when every family member and friend you catch up with wants to hear all about your love life. While Tom was visiting home that Christmas, his stepfather was hospitalized for liver failure. Three months later, he would pass away. Though Tom knew that breaking up with Frank was the right decision, weathering this loss without him nevertheless made it all the more painful. If you’re a victim of this year’s Turkey Dump, know you’re not alone. Know that, in time, you’ll feel better. And eat all the turkey you want – you deserve it. Images via Veer