Shangri-La inside the ladies’ room

Recently my wife and I went out to dinner with another married couple, and at one point before the meal arrived the other woman got up to go to the ladies’ room.
“Victoria,” she said to my wife, “come with me.” And so my wife went.
This is not news. Women drag women to ladies’ rooms all the time. But just imagine if the other man at the table had said to me, “Chris, I have to go to the men’s room. Keep me company.”
How creeped out would I have been? Very.
This is one of the great chasms that separate women from men. My wife and I have a 12-year-old daughter, and already she and her female friends have starting going to the ladies’ room together at movies and restaurants and shopping malls.
Now, I have been inside ladies’ rooms many times. Yes, that sounds a little creepy, too. Sorry. But when my daughter was a very little girl and we were traveling somewhere without her mom, I would always take her inside the ladies’ room at restaurants and airports when she had to go to the bathroom. Let’s face it: No three or four-year-old girl needs to be eye level with a urinal.
Actually, no three or four-year-old boy does either.
In any case, I know firsthand that ladies’ rooms are not a whole lot more interesting than men’s rooms. It’s not like they have massive plasma TV screens inside there showing disaster movies, or there’s an ongoing game of Paintball, or there are Nintendo Game Boys by the sinks. I doubt there’s even a greater chance there will be soap in the dispensers, since I believe a woman’s idea of proper bathroom hygiene is a whole lot more sound than a man’s. To wit: At the health club where I work out, only the girly men (like, alas, me) wash their hands. Ever. Yup, I just can’t wait to wrap my fingers around the weights or the grips on the Nautilus machines there.
Yet women flock to the ladies’ rooms as if they expect to find Jude Law or Matthew McConaughey inside waiting for them. If there are three women with three men at the table together, you can bet if one of the females excuses herself, the two others will join her.
Consequently, I asked my wife what women do when they go to ladies’ rooms together.
“I assume we do the same things men do,” she said.
“I don’t think so,” I told her. “First of all, men don’t go to the bathroom together. Second, we get in and out of there pretty quickly.”
“Well, you know, we primp.”
“It’s true,” I admitted. “Guys don’t primp.”
“And we talk about you. Men in general.”
“And we gossip,” my daughter chimed in. “It’s always good to leave the table if the conversation is getting awkward.”
My daughter is obviously onto something here. Yet for some reason men are expected to stay put at the table — at least until we are in our 50s and our prostates are the size of beach balls. Even then, however, when we go to the men’s room together we’re not primping or gossiping or escaping an awkward discussion at the restaurant table. We’re talking about our prostates. In other words, we are moving the awkward conversation away from the restaurant table.
Nevertheless, I understand precisely what my daughter and my wife are saying. I appreciate the importance of friendship and camaraderie and bonding. And so the next time I am at a restaurant and a male at the table with me suggests we go to the men’s room together … I am going to run like a hunted game animal for the exit.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on October 15, 2006.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.