Semi-Public Restrooms Are Just Plain Awful

March 25th, 2017

I don’t like public restrooms. I just don’t. It’s not that they’re dirty — I’ve never suffered from the compulsion to construct elaborate toilet paper seat barriers nor engage in quad workouts while hovering above the seat- it’s just that they’re public. I don’t like an audience. It’s that simple and I really don’t think that’s asking too much.

Over the years, I’ve come to accept and tolerate truly public restrooms, like the ones at the airport, the movie theater, or the mall. These are restrooms of mass anonymity where you are simply one of dozens, whizzing together as one. You don’t know anyone in there, you’ll never see them again, and so the intensely awkward fact you’ve shared a very private moment is somewhat blunted.

It’s the semi-private-yet-very-public restrooms that cause me no end of anguish. The ones with two or three stalls that you find at restaurants, churches, libraries, and other smallish venues. This is exactly the wrong amount of stalls. There are too many to be private (obviously) and not enough to feel securely isolated in the throng. Chances are good that someone will wander in mid pit-stop. And, in a small town, chances are even better that you will not only know that person, but be on fairly close terms with them. Sometimes, fellow bathroom-users will even strike up conversation from the other side of the partition. Oh, the horror!!

There was a funny cartoon quiz that made the rounds online a few years ago. It consisted of diagrams of various bathroom stall configurations and you were supposed to pick the “right” one to use, based on which of the stalls were occupied in each scenario. The goal was to stay as far away from other users as possible. The punchline of the two-stall configuration was that it was a trick question – you should hold it or go elsewhere!

Having spent my entire career working for small non-profit organizations, I have been battling these semi-public bathrooms of doom for many, many years. I have vivid memories of being pregnant and puking discreetly in the bathroom at work, hoping that the co-worker in the next stall wouldn’t recognize the pants I was wearing that day as I had not yet announced the family expansion to my boss.

You can imagine my joy – or maybe you can’t, but just play along – when my current employer converted the bathrooms nearest to my office into “family” restrooms. There are still two stalls in the bathroom, but you can lock the exterior door, preventing anyone from joining you to use the second stall. It is one of the best job perks I’ve ever encountered. Vacation days and 401K plans have got nothing on a truly private bathroom. The former can be found in many places, but the latter is nothing short of magical.

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