Rachel Tomala of St. Paul had been dating her boyfriend, a student at a college out east, for a year and a half. At Thanksgiving this year, they hung out together and Tomala was having a great time until ... he broke up with her before the weekend was over.

"Nice," she said.

Not really, but not so unusual, either.

Parents, if you haven't already, please add this term to your modern-day lexicon: "turkey drop." It refers to college students in long-distance relationships who are certain their hometown romance is destiny -- until their eyes start roving around the room at their first Friday night party away.

The Thanksgiving holiday is usually the first time these long-distance couples are together face-to-face since one or both has left home. Hence, the turkey drop.

Typically, the student going away is the "dropper" and the one left behind the "dropee," but not always. Sometimes, both young adults come to the same conclusion and everybody can celebrate over an extra piece of pumpkin pie. Other times, though, it's fraught with anxiety and guilt.

Mike Segawa, dean of students at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., uses the turkey-drop story during parent orientation. "The first time you'll see [your student] is usually at Thanksgiving," he tells them. "They'll walk in the front door and say, 'I need to go do something.' Let them go."

They are most likely going to their significant other's house to say, "I think we should see other people" -- a euphemism for "I'm seeing other people," Segawa said.

Ouch.

An upside to getting dumped

Still, not everyone thinks this is a bad thing. Many parents certainly don't. Sometimes when Segawa tells this story in an auditorium of 300 people, parents applaud or shout, "Thank goodness!"

Carolyn Tiger, 33, author of "The Long-Distance Relationship Guide" (Quirk Books, $14.95), says thank goodness, too.

"I don't really think you should be in a serious relationship when you're 17 or 18," said Tiger, who laughed when she heard the term, although she pointed out that getting dumped at Thanksgiving is not a new concept.

"You should play the field until you're really ready to commit to somebody. It leads to more successful long-term relationships later in life if you've had other dating experiences."

Young people, she said, probably have every intention of staying together when they go off to school, "but once you get into your new world and jump into this dating pool that is large and diverse and exciting, it only makes sense that you'd want to explore other options."

It may not even be that the turkey-dropper has found someone else. "It may just be that the calling and texting and kvetching [with the significant other] is taking away time they want to spend on their new campus," Tiger said.

Segawa says he can easily spot the "droppers" on campus after Thanksgiving break. "They're not sullen at all. The weight of the world has been lifted off their shoulders."

Segawa and Tiger agree that there are better and worse ways to do the inevitable. They give a lot of credit to students who wait to talk face to face, instead of taking the low road and breaking up via e-mail or text message. ("Unimaginable," Tiger said. "If somebody breaks up with you with by TM'ing, be happy that you got rid of them.")

She and Segawa encourage students to make the break right away, preferably at the beginning of the long weekend. Don't pretend that everything is all right and then drop the bomb on Sunday night.

And while there is no easy way to say what you need to say, do it in the kindest, most respectful way you can.

Remember, Tiger said: "You'll always be coming home for Thanksgiving. You want to do it as amicably as possible."

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350