The Turkey Drop

Couple in front of wall.
Couple in front of wall.

Around Thanksgiving, my friend Kristen and I were chatting about how our relationships have been going this year and about our holiday anxiety. Both of us have had relationships end between Thanksgiving and New Years before -- "the turkey drop" -- and those memories resurface with the pressure of the holiday season. As we were talking, she stopped me and asked, "What's a turkey drop?"

The Turkey Drop is the phenomenon of college freshmen returning home from their first term away and ending their long-distance highschool relationship. It's not just college or even casual dating, though. Long-term 'ships often end abruptly over the holidays. Years ago, when I managed two branches of a law firm, we would leave an hour open every day at both offices from November 20th through January 10th for divorce consultations -- no joke. Even then, with two offices, we had to turn clients away every day. Make no mistake, "the turkey drop" is a real thing. What gives?

A 2014 survey of Facebook relationship statuses revealed that breakups steadily climb from November 1st though New Years, reaching an annual peak two weeks before Christmas with consistent lows during summer months. "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, plus testosterone production is boosted by the light, and we're all wearing fewer clothes (although there is something pretty sexy about a sweater). But when the summer party season is over, 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 or going on a weekend vacation is enough to get people to start rethinking their relationship. Seeing other couples happy, excited, and making public vows only highlights how unhappy or "trapped" you are feeling. 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.

Having dropped and been dropped, I now 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. 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.

"I've been turkey dropped twice," says Kristen Butelo, 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, and 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." He's right. People tend to make major life choices around the holidays and keep that momentum going to start a new year right. But telling someone that you've thought about the future and that you don't want to share that future with them is never easy.

"I wouldn't say people shouldn't dump people during this time just because it hurts more," says Butelo. "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.'"