One Princeton junior told me that, during her first three months in college, she stayed in her room every Friday and Saturday night. She didn’t go out because her high-school boyfriend didn’t want her to. The first time she drank alcohol, he “fell apart.” When she signed up to join a sorority, he started a screaming match. She knew she was missing out on important college experiences, but there was still something that made her stay with him for the first few months.
“First semester of freshman year, you don’t have that many real friends, so when my high-school boyfriend would show up, I would be like, ‘Yes, here is someone I trust, that I can actually tell things to,’” another junior said. “He was someone who would just instantly understand what was happening with me emotionally. I would want to just hole up in my room for the rest of the weekend, talking to him.”
So when does this affinity for the familiar start to change? 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.
According to Dr. Christopher Thurber, a psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy, going home for Thanksgiving – being surrounded by people they love – can actually help freshmen to get over their homesickness. “When you’re homesick, your actions – being tearful, staying in your room a lot – will cue in the people around you, and prompt an appropriate social response,” said Thurber. “People will reach out to you, and that often will boost the student’s confidence. This in turn will help them overcome feelings of homesickness.”
When I came home for Thanksgiving my freshman year, I was also shocked by how much I’d changed. I went to a high school where the majority of students had been living in the same town since kindergarten. Most people had similar views on political issues and didn’t have experience with cultures different from our own. Then I moved into my freshman dorm, and met a roommate who had just flown in from South Korea. At Thanksgiving, it felt strange to reunite with my group of high school girlfriends, who all grew up within a 20-mile radius.
“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.’ The committed match that you had in your mind might not look the same when you go home for Thanksgiving,” said Thurber.
Almost everyone I interviewed said there was no way to casually be in a long-distance relationship in college. If you were weren't together everyday on campus, then you had to make sacrifices, and you didn't make sacrifices if things weren't serious. One junior told me that, freshman year, her high-school boyfriend revealed his plans to propose the day after graduation. She broke up with him a few weeks later.