I have unfortunately strong powers of observation, which cause me to (occasionally) see things at more than face value, and (usually) to over analyze them. It’s a quirk, no doubt, and probably not to my credit, but it is what it is. Just a little background as warning that you may want to stop reading now, lest you venture into the neuroses of the author.
For half of you that read this, I need to provide further background, because the physical location of this tale plays a significant role, and half of you have never been there: the office men’s room.
As you can see, there exists a divider between depositories, from approximately knee height to shoulder height, and extending out from the wall eighteen inches or so. I suppose conjecturing the purpose of this divider could warrant its own entire post – privacy, avoid the crossing of streams, etc – but we will just note its existence as part of the bathroom architect’s Grand Design, as I believe the divider is symbolic, intended to encourage men to recognize the need for quiet self-reflection while standing in this situation. It’s only fair to mention at this point that not all public men’s rooms have dividers between their urinals, so clearly the designer of this workplace bathroom intended its visitors to have a solemn personal experience with each visit.
Few among us are blessed of home enough to have a urinal among our 2.5 baths, so the workplace bathroom trip is special, and should be treated with an appropriate reverence. Just as the shoulder-to-shoulder stadium trough experience is something that men look forward to during the entire drive to the game.
With that out of the way, allow me to return to the topic at hand referenced in the title of this post. There are some men who do not share my view of the sanctity of the trinity, wherein a man should restrict his workplace urinal experience to himself alone among men. These “leaking lookers” not only want to initiate conversations over the divider panel, but they go so far as to even turn their heads to the side to identify their urineighbor, which clearly violates my “eyes forward” standard while using a urinal. I cannot discern any common traits among this crowd, neither in personality, seniority, age, nor economic standing.
Now, I have been told that I am an outgoing person, and I generally make eye contact and greet each person I pass in the hallways of the office, but once I enter the tiled world of the office men’s room, I become an eyes-to-the-floor introvert. This is not a place for me to converse. Should I occasion to enter a men’s room with a fellow male while we are already engaged in conversation, a side-by-side (still eyes forward, of course) continuation is permissible. Continuation yes, initiation no. Using the old “boy, this water’s cold”; “yeah, deep, too” two-person joke when entering a men’s room with a buddy, perfectly acceptable. Turning to your left to see who is standing next to you, not so much.
This is not a homophobic issue; please don’t misinterpret this as me implying that anyone is trying to get a glance at anyone else. Nor does this make me uncomfortable with its awkwardness. Rather, this is an issue similar to violating someone’s personal space by close-talking them after that third appletini; a serious abuse of social constructs. I urge you, fellow man: Do not violate the men’s room Trinity: the man, his [insert penis euphemism of choice], and the porcelain.
Remember the Trinity. Eyes forward, mister.
Ed note: I discussed this issue with a colleague recently who disagrees with my stance, and proudly admits that he is a head-turning leaking looker. Well, he didn’t use that exact moniker to describe himself, but he believes that the head turn is not only okay, but also to be encouraged. I have asked him to prepare a guest post response which I will post here. Additionally, in discussions of this issue with a female colleague, she said “you would not believe the zany stuff that goes on in the ladies room.” I requested a guest post on that as well, so look for a series of workplace bathroom posts, to continue the rich thought leadership tradition of this blog.
I also wish to note that this is not specific to my current place of work, there were a few turn-and-talkers at past jobs as well.
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I’m in your camp. I especially like the bars that now have the TV’s above the urinals. No convo necessary.
Yes, great point, Brian – that makes it very easy to keep eyes forward, doesn’t it?
There is a key word in the phrase “public restroom”: public. Public is defined as open to all persons. Yet ever since middle school I have heard the rumors of an unspoken rule of no talking at the men’s bathroom urinals.
The excuses are many, but most defend this sacred notion (as Ted does) that once a grip on the tool has occurred silence is customary. While the positions are similar, I hate to burst any man’s bubble but you’re not teeing up a golf shot. You are engaging in an activity every other healthy member of our species has embraced since our genesis. There are no mysteries or questions when approaching another at a urinal. It’s basic. And if you happen to recognize the person who is in mid-stream, a greeting is perfectly fine.
Are you the social type? An outgoing individual who likes to meet and discover new people? Well, there is no time like the present for an introduction. No reason to look, but you already have something in common. Asking a stranger what they think of the game, movie or what department they work in is perfectly acceptable. I would refrain from discussing the subject in hand with too much detail, like “Boy, that’s a flowing stream!” However some icebreakers are pretty clever: “Jeez, you’d think watching Peter O’Toole in the desert for four hours would’ve made me glad I got the large soda.”
High fives and handshakes can wait until after hand washing, but there is no reason for silence. The average bladder relief is rarely over a minute. That’s not much time for self-reflection, but a minute can be long with nothing to occupy yourself. What happens when you’re alone? I’ve seen my thing do its thing for a lifetime. Nothing new or sacred there. Maybe you study grout lines, and judge whether or not the tile setter knew what they were doing. At best, you feel confident in your own at-home work; at worst, you’re now planning a trip to Home Depot. But when a visitor or friend joins the ranks, take the golden opportunity to chat. If you don’t hit your stride, it’s only a minute; but the reward of a lasting friendship is timeless.
To address those urophobics who think us “head-turning leaking lookers” are trying to sneak a peek, please don’t flatter yourselves. We’re not interested. If anyone is trying to glimpse or stare their creepy behavior should be pretty obvious, and I wouldn’t oppose a harsh response. But for those who want to be alone in the bathroom, get a stall. Privacy usually requires more than one wall, and if there is only one wall you should be on the other side.