If work culture is a science lab for studying human behavior, the shared office bathroom is surely the petri dish. There is no place riper for analysis because there is no scenario more vulnerable than sitting half-naked with your legs sprawled out, a mere divider away from a distant acquaintance (at best) or an authoritarian figure with the power to end your career (at worst). In the hallways, egos may reign, but in the bathroom, we are literally stripped of our pants and our self-importance. We swap out our walls for stalls and are bonded together by the greatest equalizer on earth.
But here’s a hot take: Synced up bowels are an opportunity! Why should the bathroom constitute a lawless territory where niceties are dropped as quickly as the underwear pooling around your ankles? I’d argue there’s no better place to get to know someone. When else will you have the chance to approach a peer, report, or supervisor in such a partisan manner? Allow the pants-down vulnerability to make way for actual human connection, I say. And once you walk out that door and back into your respective bullpens, at the very least, you’ll always have the bathroom.
I came to this epiphany—that is, the social potential of work toilets—upon starting a job and learning my new work environment, while supportive and encouraging, was startlingly silent. An extrovert with a propensity for verbal jousting, I began craving trivial banter, yearning to laugh a little too loudly at a joke that wasn’t even meant for me. So I started retreating to the restroom as not only a form of literal release, but as a form of emotional release. It was there that I started striking up conversations with unsuspecting cohorts. What I didn’t expect was for this effort to swiftly transform my work friendships overnight. Suddenly I knew everyone on my floor by name and occupation. Soon I became the most popular gal at the potty, the jester of the john, and so on and so forth.
Behold, my unconventional life hack of choice: Making friends in the bathroom.
Bathroom Tip #1: When You’re Ready To Establish an Office Relationship…
Use a bathroom run-in as an excuse to shower your coworker with compliments. If you’re me, you’ll tell her you love her shoes. Then you’ll ask her where she got them and if she’d buy them again, knowing what she knows now. And every time you cross paths (and streams) after that, you’ll ask about the shoes. And when she wears new ones, you’ll wonder aloud if the old shoes are jealous. You’ll repeat this joke one to four times until she’s charmed by your commitment to it and lets out a laugh. You’ll rejoice in this victory then buy her a coffee.
(In your case, any compliment will do.)
Bathroom Tip #2: When You Have a Meet-Cute With Your Manager…
Acknowledge it! Every time you open the bathroom door with the intention of exiting and come face-to-face with your entering manager, her boss, or some other form of superior being, don’t just hold the door open for them—take it one step further by making a tasteful joke. A few winners I’ve tried in the past include: “Fancy seeing you here,” or “You’re here, too? What are the odds!” or “We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” or my personal favorite, “I’ve been waiting for you!” (Too far?) Of course, a short, to-the-point “M’lady” can do the trick with so few words. Bonus points if you add in a curtsy. I guarantee that she’ll never forget who you are, and after a few choice encounters, she might even describe you as having “good energy.”
Bathroom Tip #3: When You’re Caught (Perhaps Literally) Red-Handed…
Own it outright. If someone you only sort of know walks in on you doing something semi-embarrassing (taking a mirror selfie, lifting your shirt to check for period bloat, flossing your teeth with an index card), better to own it than freeze and slink away in silent shame. For me, this often takes the form of an enchanting long-winded backstory, replete with self-deprecation and new avenues for connection. I say make this an interactive experience from start to finish.
Other fool-proof work bathroom maneuvers include:
-Calling out into the abyss in search of toilet paper or tampons.
-Making a joke about the automatic soap dispensers (“They treat me like I’m invisible… just like my cat”).
-Asking nobody in particular, “Is it just me, or is the lighting in here incredible?”
-Turning to the stranger next to you and exclaiming, “I almost wore that today! Let’s coordinate better next time.”
What does your workplace bathroom behavior look like? Do you shy away from engaging with your coworkers or do you extend an olive branch in the form of a loose piece of paper towel? Jokes aside, I urge you to do the latter, because at the end of the day, going to a public bathroom is already shitty enough.
Graphic by Coco Lashar