No one knows for sure whether breaking the seal is real or not. Some science says it’s an definitely a myth — when you decide to pee the first time after you commence boozing has no bearing on how often you’ll need to pee the rest of the night. Other science claims it’s a real thing — or at least, the sensation of “opening the floodgates” the first time you take a big boozy piss is.
Either way, the idea is pervasive in drinking culture — that there is a certain piss point of no return when it comes to drinking, and if you blow your piss load too soon, you’ll fuck up an otherwise great, sloshy night by spending too much of it in the bathroom.
The overwhelming majority of tweets about breaking the seal, for instance, lament its existence as not just a bad thing, but a rookie drinking move:
Some do concede that the first piss feels really good, even if it still portends bad times:
But it’s largely an outlier position to think of breaking the seal as a positive:
Yet, here at the MEL offices, we had a pro-seal-breaker among us — our editor-in-chief, Josh Schollmeyer.
Josh bravely agreed to debate three anti-seal-breakers — Tracy Moore, staff writer; Alana Hope Levinson, deputy editor; and Serena Golden, managing editor — on the subject of whether breaking the seal can ever be thought of as a good thing.
Josh Schollmeyer: You all think I’m wrong for believing that breaking the seal is a custom meant to prolong a night of drinking — a reset, if you will. Why?
Serena Golden: See, I’ve always heard it as, “Don’t break the seal.” If you’re at a concert or a sports game, or even just in a crowded bar, going to the bathroom frequently is a huge pain. So there’s this idea that if you don’t start going to the bathroom, you won’t then need to go constantly throughout the night. I don’t think it’s true, but that’s the theory as I’ve heard it.
Tracy Moore: Agreed. Besides, how could taking that first piss allow you to keep drinking anyway? Liquid out, more liquid in?
Josh: Maybe it’s just something I’ve experienced, but I can always almost feel myself pissing the buzz away.
Alana Levinson: That’s not how alcohol works… If it were, there wouldn’t be DUIs.
Tracy: Your buzz resides in your bladder?
Josh: Mine does. I have a magical bladder.
Tracy: The more common thinking here is that breaking the seal means you’ll have to piss every few minutes all night, which takes you away from the event and your friends and the drinking. It’s a social pressure thing, too — don’t literally start pissing the night away.
Alana: I guess you’re right, Josh, in that it is seen as a buzzkill to the drinking, but not in a scientific way — in a cultural way. Nothing worse than the person who always has to go to the bathroom, forcing you to pause the game or conversation or whatever.
Tracy: It makes that person sheepish and also open to shaming: “Oh, you must have broken the seal! You did this to yourself!”
Josh: YOU CAN’T HANDLE YOUR LIQUOR.
Tracy: YOU CAN’T HANDLE YOUR PEE.
Serena: Yeah, as a person who loves both caffeine and alcohol and consequently has to pee all the time, I have frequently felt shamed for it. Especially if you’re in a circumstance where stopping to use the bathroom slows down everyone else.
Josh: Really? Again, I see it as a reset. When someone gets up to go to the bathroom, it allows the conversation to change, the dynamic among everyone at the table to shift.
Serena: You do have a point, Josh. It’s actually kind of convenient if I’m out with friends who don’t know each other and I’m hoping they’ll get talking.
Josh: Or if you just want to change the conversation. Drunk conversation always lingers too long. It’s a nice inadvertent stopping point.
Tracy: Pee, check my outfit, re-up this buzz.
Josh: That’s my mantra.
Serena: Also, can we all agree that sometimes you just want to look at your phone and not talk to anyone for a couple of minutes? Going to the bathroom can be a convenient excuse.
Josh: That’s breaking a different seal.
Alana: That seal you should never break: drinking and texting. Put that on my tombstone.
But let’s think back to where this urban legend came from.
Tracy: Not breaking the seal probably originated with binge-drinkers who aren’t in deep conversations, anyway — college kids and frat dudes who think that by breaking the seal, you unleash a piss dragon to a degree that obviously interrupts the night.
Alana: Yes, you are a “bitch” who “broke your seal,” bro.
Josh: That can’t be true, because as I’ve said, I like to preemptively break the seal, and it doesn’t make me need to piss any more the rest of the night. It just reinvigorates my buzz.
Tracy: But it’s widely understood to be a bad thing! Case in point: Urban Dictionary defines breaking the seal as “the point at which you first piss after you have been drinking your favorite alcoholic beverage and at this point you will be pissing every 10 minutes.”
Tracy: As in, “Damn, dude, I shouldn’t have broken the seal because now I have to piss every 10 minutes.” In other words, I can’t party as hard; I have broken the seal. It’s a party foul. And to break the seal for a guy is actually emasculating.
Josh: I’ve never once felt emasculated for it… until this conversation. For me at least, it’s always been a sign that you were getting sufficiently drunk. Gotta break the seal, because I’ve drunk SO MUCH beer.
Alana: Again, CULTURE. Is peeing a lot associated with women?
Serena: One of my exes used to say that women pee more because of anatomical differences in urethral sphincters, and there does seem to be some literature on that, but it’s dubious whether women actually have to pee more often.
Tracy: Arguably, though, the idea of breaking the seal might persist in college drinking culture because men tend to challenge each other to drink so much — copious shots, keg stands, shotgunning beers — and so it follows that anything that takes you away from standing there and holding your own, booze-wise, is a pussy move. Oh, you have to puke? Better puke and rally. And so on. KEEP DRINKING is always the message. Until we all pass out.
Alana: Yeah, keep drinking but also there’s so much emphasis on “THE NIGHT.” Like every night is the one from The Hangover: Do not miss a moment. Do not fuck it up. Every Saturday with your boys is kinda like a wedding for men!
Tracy: We all got so hammered and stayed together! No one ever left the room so we could all party as hard as partying can be done!
Alana: In general, togetherness is a huge part of drinking rituals, at least in America. (I like how people always say they aren’t an alcoholic cause they don’t drink alone — like, that’s not what makes you an alcoholic, buddy.) For example, keg stands, flip cup, tailgating. People feel better about being blackout drunk around other blackout drunk people.
Tracy: I wonder if anyone has ever tried to test breaking the seal. Drinking the same amount on two different nights but peeing the first time you need to, versus waiting as long as possible, then counting all subsequent pees.
Serena: Well, you can train yourself. My best friend used to be a constant bathroom-goer like me, and then she went to med school and became a surgeon and has to not pee for 8 or 10 hours at a stretch, and now she basically never has to pee. But that takes time and practice.
Tracy: Yeah and I think theoretically, pissing a lot amongst men is like, what happens when you’re really old and/or have prostate problems, right.
Josh: All the older men in my life — my dad, uncles, etc. — always lament having to get up and take a piss like 15 times a night. Or that it takes a while to get things started at the urinal.
Tracy: I think Alana’s theory of the adherence to an epic night is at play here. You’re proving your endurance as a drinker, a partier, an upstanding member of the group.
Josh: Do you really notice if someone is missing if you’re out with a group of three or more?
Tracy: I mean among college-age drinkers, frat dudes. I watched jocks egg each other on to drink like 15 beers a night on weekends in high school. They do a lot of aggro drinking and challenging to drink more. I mean there’s even the ritual chant, “DRINK DRINK DRINK.”
Alana: It’s not just a frat thing — it’s a college thing more generally. Even in high school, you do it.
I think it’s how we all learn to drink, essentially — which, sadly, is in excess.
Tracy: It seems simple. Obviously if you drink a lot, you’re going to pee a lot. I don’t get why anyone thinks the first pee is what makes more pee come. Maybe it’s the 10 beers you drank, moron.
Serena: Hard agree.
Josh: So how many drinks before you break the seal?
Tracy: There’s no definitive answer for that. It’s just widely understood to be bad. Josh is the lone exception. His only backup is that the first big boozy pee feels good.
Alana: Isn’t urination kinda psychological? I’m convinced you’ll pee more if you think you broke the seal.
Tracy: I think you THINK you will. In reality you will pee the same. But every pee will now be attributed to a mythical thing rather than the literal booze.
Josh: Just how I think I’m pissing out my buzz. I can tell you that I can feel it in my brain. But as Tracy points out, that’s not how the bladder works. Still, I’ll argue it to the death as a very pleasurable experience. Again, a grand reset. Even though I know it’s all bullshit.
Alana: Look, whatever works for you. I think the key is just realizing that most of our perceived beliefs are not grounded in reality.
Tracy: Josh has chosen to reframe breaking the seal as empowerment.
Serena: I can respect that.
Alana: Nice! Reclaim it.
Tracy: It’s like The Secret, but for drinking.
Josh: I’ll drink to that.