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The “Turkey Dump”: Fact or Fiction?

It is the day after Thanksgiving weekend and thousands of undergrads are emerging from a turkey-induced slumber, packing up their leftover turkey sandwiches, and heading back to their dorm rooms newly single. Yep, you got it, they’ve been Turkey Dumped – or at least this is what contemporary dorm room legend implies.

According to urbandictionary.com, the Turkey Dump refers to when students returning home from college break-up with their significant others from high school. The name for this freshman “tradition” was coined because this breakup typically occurs over Thanksgiving weekend, the first time many students return home from college. At some schools, first-year students are even taught the Turkey Dump chant during frosh week:

“Call ‘em up, write a letter, Internet is even better.
It’s the turkey dump. Say what? The Turkey Dump.”

Terrible, I know. But, is the turkey dump a real phenomenon?

In one study about romantic relationships during the first year of college, about half of those in a long-distance relationship (LDR) broke-up with their partners before the end of the fall term (compared to less than 15% of those in a geographically close relationship, GCR).1 In another study of long-distance relationships during the first year of college, 36% of participants broke up with their partners during first semester.2 Unfortunately, however, these studies do not specifically pinpoint Thanksgiving as when these break-ups occur.

Non-academic “research” based on Facebook relationship status updates suggests a steady rise in breakups between the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend and 2 weeks before Christmas. For some, Thanksgiving weekend is the last appropriate chance to end a LDR during the fall term (since breaking up with someone during the holiday season could be seen as cruel), but we still lack definitive research evidence to support this conclusion.

Although we find that LDRs can be as satisfying as GCRs, the first year of college may be an especially difficult transitional period. Researchers have found that individuals high in moral commitment, a commitment that is distinct from satisfaction (an instead is tied to a person’s values and identity), are less likely to break up during this transitional period. Those who are high in moral commitment are more likely to see the ‘costs’ of being apart as a high investment in the relationship, and this investment strengthens their commitment. However, if they do break up, people high in moral commitment tend to experience more distress.1 If you are Turkey Dumped, or go through a breakup at any point, believing that you can do something to regulate the negative feelings associated with a break-up predicts better coping and adjustment.3

To all you newly single undergrads returning to your dorm rooms today, don’t worry --- there are plenty of fish in the university sea. See our SofR post on healthy relationships in your first year of college.

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1Lydon, J., Pierce, T., & O’Regan, S. (1997). Coping with moral commitment to long-distance dating relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 104-113.

2Helgeson, V. S. (1994). Long-distance romantic relationships: Sex differences in adjustment and breakup. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 254-265.

3Mearns, J. (1991). Coping with a breakup: Negative mood regulation expectancies and depression following the end of a romantic relationship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 327-334. 

Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.

image source: turkeydump.com

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