Turkey Dump is a term we threw around as college freshmen to describe the distinct phenomenon of high school sweethearts breaking up over Thanksgiving break. I watched Hallie and her boyfriend in Santa Barbara crash and burn a few weeks before, and Liv dumped her boyfriend from Oregon a few weeks before that. Then, as break rolled around, I kept a checklist in my head of the other relationships that failed. This crude checklist distanced me from them and helped keep me from acknowledging the bizarre nature of my early college romantic life.
Hank and I broke up two hours before I left on my cross-country flight to USC.
We had decided not to do long distance between our two schools in May but to stay together over the summer. Our last date was meticulously planned: dinner, a slam poetry show, my favorite ice cream in Boston, a visit to our alma mater (where Hank handed me a present and a love letter) and (of course) car sex. Then, at 2 a.m., he dropped me off at my front door, gave me a kiss and said goodbye.
I was jittery and exhausted and started move-in the next day with a smile on my face. And despite the fact that I still had bruises on the back of my head from our last night of intimacy, and that Hank still texted me, “I love you,” I mixed the occasional tears with a desperate quest to win the breakup.
One morning, around the time Thanksgiving rolled around, and I was 10 kisses into my rebound, Hank had sent me a text that said, “‘I guess I should stop saying ‘I love you.’” Ours was my first real relationship, and I had wanted to believe that a breakup didn’t have to mean you let go of the emotional connection. It was my first love, and I wanted to think that first love was an indefinite bond.
My first semester, I danced between idealistically clinging to romanticism and plunging headfirst into the chaos of USC hookup culture.
Hank and I had six months of an unlabeled but naive physical relationship before we became boyfriend and girlfriend. Because of this, I thought I knew how to navigate hookups. I waited until I was in love to have sex for the first time, and I fell deeply in love with Hank. Once that was over with, and Hank was thousands of miles away, I thought I would tap into my sexuality as a large part of my exploration of college social life.
I never had a full drink before USC. I lied on AlcoholEdu because the statistics made me feel like an anomaly. On the first Friday before classes, I walked far off campus and had a boy recommend me a drink at a party’s bar. I quickly consumed that rum and Coke and then a vodka Sprite. The next weekend, I got drunk enough that I peed in a driveway.
By the end of the semester, I had established a tongue-in-cheek rule that I dubbed sex or chicken nuggets: When I went out, I would either end the night with a boy or at a fast food restaurant. By the end of the semester, I wasn’t any closer to being a woman than I was that night in a steamy car with my head banging against the side door, hoping time would stop.
Yet I desperately clung to the notion that the diverse parade of boys I encountered my first semester here — the ROTC Midwestern blonde, the Nicaraguan engineer, the older film student, the friend-of-a-friend — was leading me on a path towards the ideal college experience.
During college counseling at my high school, we were fed the notion that we would all find the right fit. With this, we would not only find exceptional academic compatibility, but also a social life tailor-made for us.
USC did not satisfy me intellectually my first semester; it took a change of major, a couple transfer applications and a new group of friends to finally find this. Before I figured out I needed to make these changes, however, I compensated my academic dissatisfaction with social interactions fit for a college movie. These decisions were amplified by my recent heartbreak over a boy who still texted me every morning and every night.
I do not regret the choices I made when I got here. I got some rebellion out of my system and made memories that still make me laugh when I tell them to people for the first time. But I wish I could have been more aware of the calculations I was making that led me to these boys. Hank’s distance would not hurt less if I had a rotation of boys in my bed. It kept hurting. And the party school would not become the right place for me if I became the life of the party. It took more than that.
Emma Andrews is a senior majoring in international relations. Her column, “Before & After,” runs Fridays.