“Raising the Tone”: Etiquette for Peeing and Prying -The Toast

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Please send your etiquette-based questions to advice@the-toast.net, subject line: “Ms. Proprietypants.” The archives (well, this is only the second installment) can be found here.


I’m sorry if this is a little gross, but it’s a real worry I face when I’m someone’s houseguest. I often need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, when everyone else is sleeping. Is it ruder to (a) flush the toilet, & risk waking everyone in the house with the noise, or (b) not flush the toilet to avoid this risk, but thus leave behind the results? Your advice appreciated.

To me, this seems like a valid question. It really “resonated,” as college freshmen like to say, as an actual conundrum with which I struggled during the recent festive season and all of the bathroom-sharing that it brings. But I have done some asking around, and I have concluded that you and I are in the minority. In fact, the research was a little embarrassing. I may have asked my brother-in-law, certainly not the world’s most fastidious housekeeper, for his opinion. He may have been horrified to learn that I periodically leave my pee in our shared bathroom at my parents’ home when I get up in the night. And he may have expressed not only retrospective revulsion at the many years of of lingering pee, but also shock that I was “that sort of person,” and he may have said that he always assumed it had to be someone else peeing surreptitiously because he didn’t think that I, of all people, would do such a thing. Oops.

I am highly susceptible to this kind of critique (“I didn’t think you were that kind of girl!”), so instead of broadening his horizons and singing a song about how everybody is different and all kinds of people do all kinds of things, I have resolved to change my ways. I guess you have your answer.

Everyone else queried also agreed that it was gross to leave pee, and while it doesn’t gross me out, I guess I see their point. (And no, we will not be discussing the leaving of other stuff. To do so would lower the tone.) That said, I bet if you are hobnobbing at a green holiday rental with some zealous board members of the Environmental Defense Fund, they would be supportive of your choice to save the dolphins/up to 7 gallons of water, potentially. Obviously I will continue to leave my pee to moulder when I eliminate in the dead of night in the comfort of home, because over the course of writing this response I have realized that I believe that it wakes me from my getting-up-to-pee-stupor up when I flush! What will I do when hosting houseguests in my own single-bathroomed home? Shit, I don’t know. I guess maybe it’s finally time to relocate to Altamonte Springs so I can afford to offer visitors a lovely nautical-themed guest bath.


My partner and I–for reasons that will make sense later, I’ll clarify here that we are a hetero couple, not yet married–have a baby on the way, and are just starting to tell our friends. Strangely, we are getting all sorts of inquiries about whether or not it was a planned pregnancy, which I think is a kind of rude question to ask and something I didn’t expect to have to answer many, many times. My impulse is to tell them that it’s none of their fucking business and put them on the list of people banished from seeing our baby until it reaches middle school and becomes unbearable, as a way to punish both parties. But maybe my pregnancy hormones are just flaring up, it’s a totally acceptable thing to ask your friend, and I should just say yeah, it was planned? What say you?

I say: congratulations! And then I say: no, no, no, noooooooo. There was a time, in a world not too far from this one, when I would have said something snarkily smug like, “yeah, way lame! time for some new friends lol :P”

Except I now know firsthand both that this is an unbelievably common response to a pregnancy announcement, and also how extremely unpleasant it is to be asked what your intentions were when you were having sex. It is, in a word, mortifying.

So, here we have it: the question is at once both common and strangely awful, much like a flu, a bedbug, etc. So, what to do? A classic recommended response to such questions is simply, “Why do you ask?” Obviously this is snappy and brilliant, but it requires some presence of mind, as well as a willingness to watch someone splutter. If you’re not up for that, I can also recommend a short pause, followed by a jovial exclamation, i.e. “Wow! [laughing politely]” Then you trail off while appearing to ponder the question. Often this causes the asker to backpedal. One can also try, either in conjunction with the second response or on its own: “Well, it’s complicated.” This may or may not be accompanied by a polite but unyielding smile. More than the other options, this latter choice serves as an end to the chat, and it is surely true: regardless of whether you were charting your cycles religiously, or popping Yaz and Plan B like they were horse tranquilizers and you were a nineties club kid with stupid big jeans, it is certainly complicated. Reproducing is a messy endeavor in every possible sense of the word.

In the name of edification and reducing global levels of obnoxiousness, it can be helpful to examine the motivations of those behaving badly. In this case, the asker, I think, is motivated primarily by the desire to know the answer to his/her question. Because it is pretty interesting, admittedly! Was pipsqueak a mistake? Was pipsqueak planned? Gosh, are they the type of people to have a baby on purpose–in their circumstances [note: people apply this to all sorts of circumstances, married, unmarried, etc.]? The type to eff up their birth control? The type not to have an abortion??? Titillating! Even if the asker realizes that all types of people both plan and do not plan to have the children they do [with or without effing up their birth control], it remains an interesting question. To many of us, other people’s beds, incomes, closeted skeletons, and big life decisions are totally fascinating! But repeat after me: You do not get to ask just because you want to know. Once more, with feeling: You do not get to ask just because you want to know.

I do offer a major caveat: if your BFFL asks you this, don’t be mad–s/he probably gets to know. But hopefully s/he has seen you puke and cry and offered to lend you underpants. And probably you would have told said BFFL anyway?

A parting note to those non-BFFLs inclined to ask this rude question: this is exactly the type of query which will very likely backfire. Before you asked, the expecting individual might have been interested in sharing the circumstances at which s/he arrived in the family way. Perhaps not, but seriously, it might have come up organically. Once someone has asked explicitly, the information begins to feel like a state secret.

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