Twice a day, 31-year-old Mollie Newton clenches the middle of the toothpaste tube in her fist with reckless abandon. Despite knowing the habit irks her husband and makes others cringe, the renegade tube-clencher admits she does it without reason. “Honestly,” the Ohio native tells me, “I have no justifiable reason for why I squeeze the tube so poorly.”
Of course, Newton isn’t the only person who squeezes from the middle of the toothpaste tube. This chaotic behavior is widespread among the human population, which means there must be some logical explanation for it, right?
“As a kid, I used to enjoy squeezing the toothpaste tube from the center,” says Marc Barnos. “I liked the feeling of squashing it and also the thrill of doing something I knew was wrong. I guess it’s just now become a habit, one that’s so instinctual it seems impossible to break.”
“My life is hectic, and I try to pack as much in as possible. So the reason I squeeze from the middle is because it’s faster than fiddling with the end,” explains Bertie Cowan. “I also never fully finish the tube because I don’t want to waste time getting out the last few squeezes.”
Some middle-squeezers even go on the offensive, arguing it’s the people who squeeze from bottom to top who are the ones doing it wrong. “When it comes to the bathroom I always like products to look fresh and new, and squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom or rolling the base up the tube looks unsightly,” says Piyushi Dhir, a 32-year-old in Ontario. “Squeezing from the middle lets the tube keep its form almost to the end — I actually find it incredibly annoying when people don’t squeeze the center.”
Meanwhile, Kim Brown argues “the problem lies with the design of the tube.” “It’s awkward to squeeze from the bottom with one hand,” she explains, “especially when the tube is near full. It’s much easier to hold and squeeze from the middle.”
Since middle-squeezers couldn’t seem to cohesively explain their madness themselves, I turned to psychiatrist Carole Lieberman for answers. “People’s personality can be described by how they squeeze the toothpaste,” she explains. “Bottom squeezers are obsessive-compulsive, thrifty and don’t like waste. They want to get the most out of all aspects of life. Middle squeezers like to feel the fat part of the tube because they find it comforting, like a pillow. They need affection and are afraid of abandonment.”
As for people who squeeze from the top, they’re “typically officious, and have no time for such mundane necessities as having to squeeze a tube of toothpaste, so they’ll take what they can get off the top,” she adds.
Psychoanalyst Claudia Luiz echoes Lieberman’s sentiment. The differences in how people squeeze their tube of toothpaste is “a litmus test for secured pleasures.” Those who squeeze from the bottom to preserve tidiness are “repressing the tactile joy once felt while transforming Play-Doh into shapes with their hands,” but at the same time, maximizing pleasure that comes from being neat and economical. The middle-squeezers, then, are the opposite, “which would explain the irritation when a roommate or partner interferes with that pleasure.”
Such is the case with Newton. “My husband absolutely hates the way that I treat the toothpaste tube,” she tells me, adding that it’s been the source of a few arguments since the two moved in together. She, however, views it as the yin and yang of their relationship. “When he squeezes from the bottom, it negates any damage I do,” she says. “So in my eyes, there’s no real harm done.”
Whether or not that logic settles the issue is another question, which is why Luiz advises divided households to get separate tubes. After all, as the saying goes, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube — no matter how you squeeze it.