In addition to the well-established and widely accepted ground rules on farting at the urinal, there lies another golden rule: No mouth stuff. Ever. That means spitting, burping, and above all else, talking.
Still, there remain some men who, for reasons we’ll get into, treat the bathroom like it’s a Goddamn roundtable. We reached out to these bathroom talkers to find out why they are the way they are.
Social Pressures to Acknowledge Each Other’s Existence
“I generally would prefer to avoid any and all conversation in the bathroom,” says Greg, an accountant in Chicago. “However, if I know you, I do feel the need to say something and start small-talk. Ideally this waits until we’re both are at the sink. But if I sense that we’re mutually aware of each other’s presence while standing at the urinal, I may say something pre-sink.”
Greg adds that while he tries to “avoid such a situation by maintaining tunnel vision at the urinal,” the social obligation he feels to chit-chat wins out, especially at the office, “due to the fact that I know most of the people in the bathroom.”
When it comes to pooping, however, Greg sprints in the opposite direction of the bathroom socialite. “I’ll even tuck my ID into my pockets so it doesn’t hang around my ankles, below the stall line, where people would then know it’s me in the stall,” he says.
One reason a few bathroom talkers say they like bathroom talk — especially in the office — is that it’s one of the few places they can chat with coworkers without interruption. “Where the fuck do all these ‘manly no talking men’ live?” says John, from Connecticut. “My friends and I have regular chats while shitting or pissing in a public bathroom.”
Both at work or at the bar, John and his friends use the bathroom as a safe haven from interruptions or eavesdropping. “My boss and I hash things out while peeing all the time,” he says. “It’s often one of the few times we can communicate quickly without interruption, especially if it’s just a quick discussion.” Nevermind Slacking or stopping by each other’s desk, these bathroom talkers argue, leave it to the serendipity of a bathroom exchange to see about that raise.
Same goes for in public with friends. “A majority of the time when we go to the bathroom at a bar, it’s to discuss whatever girl we’re talking to, or things we’ve seen go on at the bar. Additionally, my friends and I will go ‘number 2’ together as we just like the company.”
Kinship in the Brotherhood
“Doing your business at a urinal is a vulnerable position to be in for most guys: You’re staring at a wall with your back turned to everything in the room,” Reddit user u/NoYoureTheAlien tells me, after confessing to being a bathroom-talker earlier this year in an r/AskReddit thread. “So, much like the medieval knights would raise their helmet to indicate they meant no harm, I conversate to indicate to any other brother of the urinal that I have no ill will and wish upon them an empty bladder.”
He adds, however, “Nine out of ten times it’s just some asshole who’s talking on a wireless headset. For those guys, I’ll just continue to act like they’re talking to me for the sole purpose of ruining their conversation. I’m already vulnerable — for all I know you’re talking to yourself because you’re a frothing mad serial killer, and I want to get a few final words in with my penis before we possibly depart this cruel world.”
Paruresis, or ‘Shy Bladder Syndrome’
Shy Bladder Syndrome is very real, and detrimental to those that have it. For most, this prevents men from peeing because they believe, among the myriad things that give us anxiety, everyone else in the bathroom is staring at them. As such, those who suffer from paruresis are encouraged to do anything they can to “avoid any negative self-talk like ‘I’m never going to pee,’” says the Department of Health and Human Services of Australia, adding those who suffer should make any changes they can to take their mind of the anxieties of public restrooms. In a similar fashion that doing math helps you release the pee by focusing your mind elsewhere, so too might an anxious urinator strike up conversation to open the flow.
Peeing in public used to be a social affair, but advancements in plumbing made both the physical bathroom, and the act of going itself, more private. Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up for what’s right. L.A. native Ryan Smith has taken to calling strangers out in airports for their poor bathroom habits. “I’ve recently taken up talking in the bathroom to strangers,” he says. “This is ideally in a very crowded bathroom, and only to someone who hasn’t washed his hands. I’ll say something like, ‘Oh, we aren’t washing hands?’ or ‘Eww, gross!’ We are living in a society! I’ve done it three times so far, and I do it for humanitarian efforts.”
The Bottom Line
According to a 2012 study, men especially feel the need for privacy in the bathroom and any intrusion on the delicate act of quietly-understood ignorance (or “civil inattention”) in the bathroom can prevent your fellow man from being able to pee.
In other words, just keep staring deep into the white concrete wall in front of you, and most importantly, let it out down there instead of your mouth. Otherwise, no one may be able to piss.