A few weeks ago around Thanksgiving, a friend and I were chatting about how our relationships have been going and our anxiety around the holidays. At different times, we have had relationships end between Halloween and New Years and those memories resurface with the pressure of shopping season, big dinners, dressing up, and the parade of forced happiness. Offhandedly, I called it “the turkey drop” and then had to explain what that was because she had never heard of it.
“Really?” I asked, incredulous that this was a new thing to her. “You’ve never heard of the turkey drop?”
“Never,” she said. “Is that even a real thing?”
The Turkey Drop is a phenomena of college relationships ending in November through December. Typically, college freshmen will return home from their first term away and end their high-school relationship. But it’s not just college or even casual dating. Long-term ‘ships often end abruptly over the holidays. Years ago, I worked for a law firm in Louisiana for three years and we would leave the appointment calendar open, just waiting for new clients to come in like clockwork. There was an hour every day from November 20th through January 10th set aside just for divorces – no joke. Even then, with two offices, we had to turn clients away. Make no mistake, “the turkey drop” is a real thing.
A 2014 survey of Facebook relationship statuses revealed that breakups steadily climbed from November 1st though New Years, reaching an annual peak two weeks before Christmas with consistent lows during summer months. What gives?
“It’s not uncommon,” says Kate Taylor, author of Domestic Sex Goddess and a relationship expert for match.com. “Summer is a very social time, and if your affair is flagging, it’s easy to ‘dilute’ each other in the company of friends. If you’ve made plans and booked a holiday, staying together seems a lot less stressful than breaking it off. [But] then winter approaches, and the thought of being cooped up with one another is a different thing altogether.”
Studies suggest our libidos are naturally higher in summer with a greater intake of Vitamin D from sunlight. Sunlight raises levels of serotonin and dopamine, both of which regulate mood and arousal, testosterone production is boosted by the light, and we’re all wearing fewer clothes (although there is something pretty sexy about a sweater). With every high comes a low – and that can kick in around Fall. When the summer party season is over and you’ve got nothing much on until Christmas, the mundane, unexciting regularity of a relationship sets in and people feel like they no longer want to stick it out with their stick-in-the-mud. It’s the post-summer slump. Sometimes breaking up the monotony by attending a wedding is enough to get people to start rethinking their relationship. Seeing couples happy, excited, and making public vows only highlights how unhappy or “trapped” you are feeling.
And then comes the holiday travelling.
One study by Virgin found that 33% of the United Kingdom reported their first time away with a partner was a make or break point in the relationship. 55% of respondents said they “needed space apart” after they returned from their trip. Couples who only see each other a few times a week are thrown together on a trip and, in a different environment with a new routine, want to do different things. Differently. With different people. Adding to the heartbreak, you are humiliated over and again now you have to go through the stations of the cross like a martyr in front of family and friends, telling and retelling why your Significant Other is Somewhere Else.
For me, this meant that I picked up three jobs in 2010 to save money for an engagement ring. The day I bought the ring, November 20th, my then-girlfriend/almost-fiance began ignoring my calls and texts before casually telling me it was over. She said she “knew” what I had in mind, and that “so, so stupid for even thinking about it” since she didn’t see a future for us. Looking back, I’d like to be generous and say that while things hadn’t always been easy between us, we were there for each other during some very hard times, including losing her first “real” job and repossession of her childhood home. When I took those jobs “for us,” I wasn’t around as much and she did what anyone who had just finished college and an internship would do: she starting looking for someone else. Now, I refuse to go out on new dates or facilitate a Meet Cute for friends between Thanksgiving and New Years because I know the turnover is so high. I even dropped a cute Ukrainian girl I was seeing one year because once I had a chance to really think about it, I was ashamed of the politically incorrect things she might say in front of my friends. People may want to curb holiday loneliness and warm up with someone special, but given time to think it through, they may just come to the same conclusion. This has been fun, but I want a fresh start for the New Year and don’t want to go through the motions faking it until then.
For my friend, this meant not one, but two dropped turkeys. “I’ve been turkey dropped twice,” says Katie Bennis* (real name changed to protect her privacy), a therapist for a Family Services agency in Southern California. “Both times, things were getting rocky around Thanksgiving and the drops came right around Christmas – like within a day or two. Both of them left a long-term, serious relationship with me due to the need to ‘discover themselves’ and be ‘single for a season.’” Speaking of her thoughts on the Turkey Drop Phenomenon, having lived through it twice, “I guess it makes sense that this urge would come around the holidays when people start thinking about family, the future, etcetera. People join gyms, people get engaged, and people break up, but boy, does it sting.”
According to relationship and sex advice guru Dan Savage, “For grown-ups, it’s the anticipation of being stuck for three or four more months. You’re a cad if you break up around Christmas. And then there’s New Year’s — and you can’t dump somebody right around New Year’s. After that, if you don’t jump on it, is Valentine’s Day and God forbid if their birthday should fall somewhere between November and February! Then you’re really stuck!” The holiday season “is really when you have to pull the trigger if you’re not willing to tough it out through February.”
Taylor adds, “Dating agencies typically find January is the peak time for new members. If you leave a dead-end affair now, you’ll have a couple of months to grieve before reinventing yourself, full of optimism, in the new year.”
Still, as Bennis says, people tend to make major life choices around the holidays and keep that momentum going to start a new year right. And as Savage points out, really, is there ever a good time to break up with someone? “I’m actually bad at the turkey drop,” he says. “I had a turkey drop that was coming, and I fled the state.” Telling someone that you’ve really tried, and given yourself time to think about the future, and that you don’t want to share that future with this person is never easy.
“I wouldn’t say people *shouldn’t* dump people during this time just because it hurts more,” says Bennis. “I mean, if they want out, by all means, leave. Don’t stay only to do me a favor because you know it will suck for me to get dumped right now. However, maybe all of us can do a better job of reflecting on what we want in life and our relationships in an intentional way year-round and spare a vast majority of Significant Others from finding themselves on New Year’s Eve freshly heart-broken and drunk on cheap champagne counting down to a mediocre smooch with Brock (the much shorter guy at the bar who compliments your hair and bought you and your friends a few shots of fireball) or a good cry in the bathroom to your girlfriends about not seeing ‘the signs.’”