It may sound like a fun game played with friends and family. Or the title of an iconic TV sitcom episode. But it's actually quite the opposite. The "Turkey drop" refers to the phenomenon when college freshman return home and break-up with their high school sweetheart. And it happens more than you might think.
The Atlantic has a quick summary of why:
In the first few months of college, there are those long, lonely freshman nights – times when you wonder whether you’ve actually made any real friends. By November, however, most freshmen have gotten over the worst of their homesickness. The “Turkey Drop” happens in part because freshmen realize they no longer need the safety blanket of their high school significant other.
Now, that author goes on to hypothesize that since college is about taking risks and engaging in some questionable behavior, someone holding you back at home is tough. But others have a little more nuanced view.
Psychologist Christopher Thurber explains that freshman who are homesick start developing deeper bonds with those around them who have helped them get through such a tough period. There's also the idea that some more idealistic ideas start to fade.
“A freshman will think, ‘When I was with this girl in high school, I thought we were going to be together forever. Then I got to college and saw that there was so much going on – different people and places and things,’" he tells The Atlantic. "The committed match that you had in your mind might not look the same when you go home for Thanksgiving."
And don't think the phenomenon is anything new. Even if you haven't heard the term, it's still been going on.
"I first heard the phrase back in 1985, when I was a Berkeley freshman," Professor Hugo Schwyzer explains on the site Jezebel. "While I was home for Thanksgiving, my girlfriend –- a year younger and a high school senior –- dumped me. She had already started dating one of her classmates, and explained to me that it was 'just too hard' to keep our relationship going on phone calls and letters. When I told my cousin what had happened, he turned the term into a verb: 'Hugo, you're the one in college. You were supposed to turkey drop her!'"
In fact, NPR even covered it back in 2009:
Schwyzer adds that even with the advent of technology, college students still struggle with long-distance relationships. So even with iPhones, webcams, and the like, he says, "In a ritual as time-honored and unavoidable as a Thanksgiving Day Cowboys game, the heartache of the turkey drop is coming."
Parents, you've been warned.