Why Do Women Go to the Lady’s Room in Groups?

Byron asks: Why do women always seem to like to go to the bathroom in groups?

Now You KnowWhy do women go to the ladies room in groups?  You might as well ask “What did John Lennon see in Yoko Ono? If Wile E. Coyote could afford all those Acme gimmicks, why didn’t he just order a pizza or Chinese food instead of chasing the road runner?  How exactly does the posi-trac rear end on a Plymouth work?  … It just does.”

My friend, you are treading into dangerous territory trying to understand the inner workings of the female brain. Yes, some questions perhaps should not be answered.  Never-the-less, you asked, so I will attempt to answer.

It starts with the difference in the way men and women use the restroom.  As a guy who has been a guy for over 50 years, I can easily tell all you women and girls what the men’s room is like.  Usually, it’s like a morgue.  We use it almost purely for functional action, to relieve ourselves, and maybe, but not always, we’ll take a quick look in the mirror and we just get the heck out and go back out into the real fun world.  We go to the urinals, unzip, and look straight ahead with a steadfastness gaze that a marine drill sergeant would shed a tear over its perfection. If more than one of us happens to go in together, our conversations are limited, as we much prefer kibitzing outside in the open world.

Oh sure, once in a long while, there will be a line (during a Dodger game or a Paul McCartney concert and the like) and we’ll chat in said line, but this is rare for guys. There is usually not a bathroom line for us.  And as a granite-bound rule- we’d rather go to the men’s room alone!

Now, let’s get to your specific question, which pertains to mankind’s biggest mystery- women!  As I am not a woman, and have never claimed to be an expert on the fairer sex, I will simply sum up answers I’ve found given by women, many of which come from a fantastic book by David Feldman, How Does Aspirin Find a Headache?  David Feldman is obviously not a woman, but in the previously mentioned book, he himself gathered many responses by various women on this topic.  I will also use some quotes from women on “Why Women Go to the Restroom in Groups” from You Just Don’t Understand, by Deborah Tannen.  If there are any explanations missed, please ladies post them in the comments below.

(Editor’s note: If you enjoy Today I Found Out, you’ll love pretty much every one of Feldman’s books, which are basically Today I Found Out in book form.  You can check out his whole catalog here: David Feldman’s Imponderables Series)

Reason #1: To Kill Time:

Unlike men’s rooms which reflect the fact that men have a lot less to do in the restroom than women and men are all about getting in and out fast, women’s restrooms quite frequently feature lines (of course, compounded by the fact that they like to go in groups).  Regardless of the cause, these frequent lines are boring to stand in alone.  Having someone to chat to while you wait is a great way to kill time.

Reason #2: Hair/Make-up:

While women can look in the mirror and see themselves just fine, they generally like to get a second opinion on how they’re looking.  As such, it’s helpful to bring along a wing-woman to bounce such questions off of.  As Kelli Zimmerman noted, “My date isn’t going to tell me something doesn’t look right. My girlfriend will.” Or, as Joan Cartan-Hansen said, “Women seem to need confirmation that they look okay. After fixing your face in the bathroom mirror, it’s nice to turn to your companion for a quick approval.”

Reason #3: Female Bonding:

This is closely related to the “Kill Time” explanation, but extends beyond the waiting line.  As Mary Roush stated, “Where better to have conversational intimacy than in a woman-only restroom? The task (going to the restroom) is simply the secondary vehicle for the primary work (of women) in life: relationship maintenance.”

Karen Pierce further notes,  “I’ve had better discussions fixing my make-up than I’ve ever had talking to my boyfriends.” (Karen, you should find better boyfriends.) 😉

And finally, Charles T. Galloway (yes, a guy, but one demonstrating amazing perspicacity), “There are certain subjects that both males and females seem to regard as appropriate for discussion when the other sex is absent, but unsuitable when they are present. The ladies’ trip to the washroom takes the place of the Old Victorian habit of the ladies withdrawing from the dining room to “leave the gentlemen to their cigars”, so that these conversations can take place. What the ladies are doing in there so long is engaging in ‘girl talk’.”

Reason #4: Men Talk About Boring/Stupid Things:

Linda Lassman notes, “Another reason women leave together is because they often think the things men say are really stupid, but they don’t want to cause hurt feelings or arguments by saying so. Going to the restroom in groups allows them to talk about things that actually interest them, to discuss the same topics and have their opinions listened to, and to laugh at the men they’re with without worrying how the men will feel.”

Reason #5: Facilitate Conversations Outside of the Restroom:

Women leaving to go to the restroom in groups does this in two ways.  First, if just one person goes to the bathroom at once, that person is left out of the loop in the current conversation.  If all the women leave, it pauses the current conversation and makes sure no one gets left out and avoids the annoying potential problem of having to repeat some bit of conversation or a story or the like when the person gets back.

The second way it facilitates conversation is noted by Jennifer Talarico, “When we are in the restroom for extended periods of time, the topic of conversation is undoubtedly the men we are with. As we know, the men are back at the table discussing us as well. Sometimes the purpose of our escape is so the men can get to know one another, especially when we girls have been friends for a while and the guys have just recently met.”

(Man’s note: Sorry to disappoint, but the conversations after you leave almost never have anything to do with you, particularly if the guy(s) around me are people I know well.  Further, as a matter of personal opinion, if the guy(s) I’m left with are not people I know much or at all, I’m not loving the fact that you just left me to toil away in awkward conversation for the curiously lengthy amount of time you’re spending in the lady’s room.) 😉

This all brings up the inevitable follow up question, “Why do women take so long in the restroom?”

Obviously the lengthy line and propensity to gab noted above are two of the causes of why women take so long in the restroom.  Ladies rooms are also almost always “nicer” spaces than men’s, some even including couches and large seating areas, among other facilities to make women quite comfortable in case they wish to lounge around for lengthy periods of time.

(Editor’s note: While they are nicer in terms of amenities, as someone who worked as a janitor in college for a major one stop shopping store and before that for the U.S. Park’s service as a “maintenance engineer” (a.k.a. janitor who also does lawn work and basic repair), I can say that women’s restrooms at the end of the day are quite possibly the filthiest places on the planet, taking about 4-5 times longer to clean and being far more gag-worthy during said cleaning than even the dirtiest men’s room or even outhouse I’ve ever encountered.

Someday, I may do a post on some of the more retching women’s restroom’s cleaning experiences I’ve had.  As a small preview to that glorious day, I’ll just say for one of them, picture a spherical basketball sized lump of corn studded poop in an otherwise perfectly pristine potty and wonder, “How? What? Why?”  Then contemplate how you came to this place in your life and if there wasn’t perhaps some point in the past where you went wrong and that just maybe you should reevaluate your decision making paradigm. Then, of course, realize it’s your job to make said ball of fecal matter go away somehow.)

(Now back to the question at hand.) There are of course actual practical reasons why ladies take so long in the restroom.  Here are a few explanations from said ladies:

  • Lin Sherfy states, “Any group of more than two women invariably includes one who’s recently read ‘How to Make Lipstick Stay On’ magazine articles, and often she’s read that ‘everyone ought to use a lipstick brush’. So there stand her companions, waiting patiently because it would be rude to walk out and leave a friend alone in that evil place, while she gets out her lipstick brush, unscrews brush and lipstick, loads the brush, carefully paints her lips, blots, powders the blotted lipstick, picks her brush off the floor where it rolled, washes it, dries it, loads the brush, paints over the powdered lipstick, etc.”
  • Diane Larson: “I defy any man to don pantyhose, a girdle, a slip, a tight skirt and high heels and then go to the restroom in record time after squeezing into a tiny cubicle barely big enough to sit down in without your knees hitting the door.”
  • Joan Cartan-Hansen: “Woe to the woman who wears a one-piece jumpsuit and practically has to do a striptease to answer nature’s call.”
  • Sharon Brandon: “Men have more plentiful ‘opportunities’, shall we say, in their restroom, while women are limited to a small number of closed, private stalls. I hope I don’t have to go into grade school health class review to explain any other possible time-consuming differences to you between men and women.”
  • Judy R. Reiss cited “helping the kids go potty” as a major timesink, even for those who don’t have kids. Specifically, “Waiting for the women ahead… to get done helping the kids to go potty.” And, “Relinquishing [your] place in line to the women whose kids can’t wait to go potty.”

Obviously, if all this talking/make-up/child care/grooming/behavior occurs, it’s a wonder women ever emerge from the restroom at all (and no wonder the spaces look like a bomb went off at the end of the day).

But faced with the thrilling, exciting, fascinating prospect of rejoining their waiting specimens of maledom, they always seem to come out eventually.  And at least some of us guys are very glad that they did (particularly the one’s left to awkward conversations with men we don’t know!)

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  • Audren

    These are very nice explanations, and they sound legit! But I must say I’m still haunted by the same existential question: why do they enter the same cubicle!? Specially when there’s barely enough space for one person!? 🙂

  • Fena

    I can’t speak for everyone, but quite frankly part of the reason why we do so is also because we’re too afraid to go on our own! Awkwardness + boredom + whatifthere’snooneinthetoiletandsomethinghappens = groups are safer.

    Also, believe me, taking a long time usually isn’t intentional – in spite of all the reasons above, no one really wants to have a chat in a place which usually isn’t the nicest-smelling.

    That, and because we end up waiting for one another, that is – there’s almost always someone who’s taking a looooong time in the cubicle.

    With regards to Audren’s question… hmm. From what I gather, since I’ve not been a participant of that myself (with the exception of changing when there’s a ridiculously long queue), it seems to be for two main reasons.

    1 so the conversation can carry on without them shouting at one another, and

    2 there’s this (rather misguided) notion that doing so saves time (although this applies when everyone is supposed to change clothes and no one dares to do so in the outer area of the rest room).

    I doubt they face each other while doing anything in that cubicle, though! XD I don’t – that’s… far too awkward.

  • Jake

    I figured it was a safety in numbers situation…

  • Becca

    From my experience, it’s more of a courtesy thing. If you’re going to interrupt the flow of conversation by stepping away from the table, it makes sense for others to go along with you. That way there are fewer “pardon me” moments filled with awkward silence. I’m also forced to think about the state of my bladder when others go to the restroom, which usually incentivizes me to go ahead and go.

  • Juan

    The male experience holds everywhere except Thailand. I must fight to get to the basins to wash my hands as the half-length mirror holds all the locals entranced, combing and re-combing their hair; Tucking in and smoothing skin-tight uniforms and clothing; examining skin conditions etc. The men also undo their trousers, belt and all and then almost climb into the urinal to ensure that no one can judge endowment. Meanwhile a female attendant is mopping the floor occasionally almost between you and the urinal but everyone ignores her. At our local hypermarket, they have A4 laminated pages about the nutritional benefits of lemons, or ginger, or chicken, or tofu etc. This is of course to give you something to read whilst at the urinal, and you can always jot down the recipe included, if you feel so inclined.

  • bermyWHAT

    OMFG as a woman I seriously don’t understand how chicks take so long in the STALLS.
    I’m in pants down or skirt up – pee – wipe – flush – and out of there but I see women go in stalls and I assume that they’re removing some very complicated and delicate undergarmets because it is AMAZING how long some women can spend in the stalls. THAT is why the wait is so long and there are lines.
    BC all the other crap we do, hair and makeup is done at the mirror, few chicks actually do it and you have pretty unlimited space to do so.

  • Jamie

    I’m surprised no one said my answer. It does, of course, have to do with my own personal experiences, but isn’t every girl kind of mean to other girls sometimes?
    We’re backstabbers in general. If a girl does something to another girl, she will retaliate and it won’t be pretty. I think that we go in groups because we’re subconsciously afraid of what our “friends” will say about us while we’re gone.
    Girls are designed for emotional attachment. I think that’s why we hold grudges. Everything that another girl does to you or your friend is written down in the back of your mind. The list of wrongs is pulled out whenever the girl’s limit is reached. There are tears and rumors leaking all over the place. Girls are paranoid that their “best friend” will spill one of their secrets in their absence. Then when she finds out the girl explodes, and it’s really much easier to go to the bathroom together and prevent the problem.

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  • Noelle

    I go with groups more in the safety in numbers sense. Ever since a guy followed me to a bathroom and threatened to rape me, I just figured it was safer to have people with me. Friends and I have also gone in groups to the bathroom to avoid people outside of it.

  • Elyne

    I also go with the safety in numbers. When i was a kid, people around me always tell me to stay in two or more wherever i go. Even at the elementary school, teachers allow us (girls) to go toilet in group, because there were a case before, a guy hid in the ladies room and he got caught by the janitor. Not only lady goes with lady, my male friends also will accompany us to the ladies and wait there. So, i think it’s for safety.