Monday, February 18, 2008


sharing a bathroom brings with it a certain kind of intimacy.

It's the sort of thing you get to glimpse when you're a guest in someone else's house, but if you share a bathroom with someone you don't well on a permanent basis, it becomes a different experience.

Think about it: you see most of the personal care products people use - though there are obviously some that people try to avoid showing.

This room's very existence is built around basic bodily functions: excretion and cleaning, which, if you think about it (yes, again) are really the same issue. Most of what you wash off came from inside of you.

It's very easy, in most cases, to determine if a woman uses a bathroom on a regular basis. You just have to ask two things: how many hair care products are there? Which colors are in this bathroom?

That's not infallible, but probably often works: and maybe there are better ways still. Bobby pins, hair straighteners, blow driers; these are probably things used by women. Or very vain men.

And to nip in the bud any assumption that I'm sexist or the like: if you - male or female - have any of these products (as well as things like gel, hairspray, etc), you probably spend more time on your appearance than a lot of people: for example, me. When I have more hair, I definitely spend less than five minutes on it(currently I have less than an inch). That said, I've tried growing my hair a bit longer and I understand the reasons for fussing with it, except in cases where it can be pony-tailed.

Also, it happens that in this society, women are (unfortunately) encouraged and allowed to be more concerned with appearance, and to have longer hair. I say unfortunately because I reject the idea that kids should be encouraged to be different by social pressures. The actual, biological differences between men and women don't need any help, and if you think it's "better" to encourage girls to act one special way (for non-practical reasons) because it's "more attractive" for women to act a certain way or "just proper", then congratulations: you are steeped in your own culture and perspective.

Incidentally, lots of the same differences between men and women hold for some other cultures, but see the standard nature-nurture argument. I'm the guy who argues from behavioral plasticity and evolutionary advantage simultaneously, and that can get tricky.

So leaving that meta-cultural tangent aside:
Living with several women when you share the same bathroom, even when there are multiple toilets and individual washbasins in each room (I'm describing a student dorm here), I can practically tell you who's having her period when and how heavy it is. If I wanted, I could piece together whose blood was in or on the toilet, but that's just going too far, and actually takes some effort.

For the record: no, I don't run around thinking about this, I just happen to notice telltale traces of things. Sometimes I'd rather not have seen, but the basic pieces fit together like a puzzle a toddler could solve. That more or less means it's solvable by throwing the two pieces in opposite directions, the sort of thing some toddlers do to develop their motor skills.

I don't think most young toddlers really care that it's a puzzle, but they might stack the pieces.

Anyway, we're talking building blocks here, and I was always inclined toward Lego, so figuring out what tiny marks of blood mean, or what those funny shaped papers leftover from the feminine hygeine section are all about. (What I don't notice is exact frequency and duration...I'm trained in physics, but thank Hades I don't apply that everywhere. Also I'm bad with times, on a day-to-day basis)

It's hard not to think about this stuff when you're not easily disgusted by anything. And honestly, I don't see why a tampon should be more bothersome than a toilet: both are apparatuses for dealing with basic hygienic needs that aren't terribly pleasant in their details.

Everyone does it (except men don't menstruate, but essentially all pubescent/pre-menopausal women do that).

On reflection, I suppose that this 'intimacy' - by which I really just mean nearness - is less
pronounced if you're sharing a bathroom only with other men.

For one though, you can see who has a hard time aiming, or at least who cleans up their pee when they miss. This can actually be more pronounced if you have a urinal on the premises, surprisingly enough.

Then you'll usually only find out things like which shaving products other men use. Or telltale signs of stubble: someone shaved this morning. Or in my current case, that means I shaved within the last several days.

Then there's also more body hair left in the shower. If you look before running water, you can generally tell who was in there last, even among a good 14 people and ignoring the smells of shampoo. Most of the women leave long hair, impossible to miss, while men leave body hair, and we won't get into where it came from, specifically. (Arms. Just arms, maybe chests. Nothing else, promise.) Then has this hair color, so-and-so has hair this long, so-and-so has curly hair. Etc.

That's only if the person before you was impolite though (or possibly hurried: that's my excuse), and fails to wash it out. Let me explain though: that can be very difficult and more time-consuming than it should be, if you have a fixed shower head.

In the bathroom, you also get to see someone's true colors. How long does it take them to break? Some people do easily and end up cleaning everything themselves. Sometimes it's like a test of wills: who can bear it the longest before doing something about it? I've never engaged in this because I value cleanliness. Eventually.

I guess some people's mothers didn't shove their noses into the messes they made. Mine had four boys: she at least tried to make us do something about our messes, because we could probably make them faster than she could clean them.

So no test of wills for me - I'm also not impervious to odors, so eventually even my nose
has to put its foot down. Considering how my nose is from my feet, it's a real statement when that happens.

Some people may not notice, but everyone's in the shitter together, so to speak. It's a society whose slogan should be: "everybody poops: don't forget to flush."*

I guess what it all boils down to is that your bathroom is only as gross as you let it get. And I hereby swear to my (bath)room mate that I will do something about the mess I've made while she was gone.

*I swear I had a much better one in mind, but it escaped.

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