You’re in the bathroom at work. Someone enters the stall next to you. What do you do next?…You know exactly what. You look at the person’s feet. If you’re lucky you don’t have to bend over to see. But you do what’s necessary.
I recently conducted a little poll and realized everyone does this. Everyone. But why? Well I’ve spent some time (in an undisclosed place) thinking it over.
Here are a few theories:
1. To know how to proceed. It all comes down to who you are dealing with. It’s a hierarchical matter really. If it’s a boss, the answer is cease and desist. If it’s a harmless colleague, the answer is proceed with caution. The intern? Let er rip.
2. Because it’s creepy. Think about the setting. You are literally three feet apart and about to share a fairly intimate experience together. It’s nice to know with who.
3. Knowledge is power. It’s very comforting to know “Miss Professional” actually does take care of business just like any other person. After all, you always assumed “she was only human.” But now you know it. You know the truth. It gives you security, validation, and confidence. And somehow it makes you feel more connected to humanity as a whole. We’re all in this together.
A few problems:
1. The stalemate. It’s a non-verbal way of saying “after you…” You’ve both declared a sit-in. Each hoping the other will have a meeting to get to first. So you just sit there listening to the empty sounds each other’s constrained breathing.
2. Mystery shoes. You’ve looked and don’t recognize the shoes. You start guessing who would wear shoes of that style. You’ve narrowed it down slightly. But still don’t know. If anything unusual happens, do you spend the day playing the part of Cinderella’s undercover prince?
3. The race. Going fast just to eliminate any notion of suspicious activity. They came in after you, so you should definitely be flushing by now.
4. Like it never happened. Although you know who is next to you. And you know she knows you’re there. Neither one of you wants to rendezvous at the sinks. It has to be carefully timed so that there is no meeting. No acknowledgement.
5. Rude interruptions. Here’s a fun situation: You walk in at the same time with a coworker, small chatting, while you enter the stalls. When is the appropriate time to stop the conversation? Usually Mother Nature makes that determination:
“That meeting went so long.”
“Oh I know! And now I have a ton reports to get out.”
Here is the real problem. Using the restroom (you know I mean going #2– there’s no societal shame in peeing) is the most natural human occurrence next to eating and sleeping, and yet we are so ashamed of it. It’s an embarrassment, like something is wrong with you, and you can’t let anyone else discover it. In fact something actually would be wrong with you if you didn’t. Maybe next time you bend over to identify your neighbor, you should just stay down there until she looks at your feet; then you can say hello face-to-face, like proper neighbors.