Listen, I get it: If you’re having a nice and relaxing night out, enjoying some, say, spaghetti bolognese, you might not be itching to hear the ins and outs of my latest BMs. In fact, even if you’re not consuming a meal that closely resembles diarrhea, you may not want to hear it. This preference is totally reasonable; some people are simply poop people and others aren’t. And after enough double dates that have left me and my husband feeling like third-graders who got caught giggle-whispering curse words by a friend’s parent (i.e., someone who finds the behavior so unfunny but isn’t going to punish you for it), I’m more than aware that there are also poop couples and distinctively non-poop couples.
That said, most poop couples start out as non-poop couples until someone breaks the ice—or, er, cuts the cheese. In my case, the event happened early on and I was the culprit. We were watching a movie one night in his bedroom, and when he got up to adjust something on the TV screen, I thought I’d pull a fast one. It might’ve been zippy, but jeez did that silent sucker linger. Sure, I was embarrassed! Being the first to fart is similar to being the first to say “I love you”; even if you can’t possibly hold it in, it’s scary business. But just like how one “I love you” often leads to a whole avalanche of ‘em, one fart is well…let’s just say he quickly became comfortable airing his flatulence in my presence. And becoming a fart couple is the gateway drug to becoming a poop couple.
Thank goodness my relationship took that out-in-the-open turn when it did. Soon after gasgate—while bathroom talk was still novel and silly but indeed made me feel self-conscious when I was the subject of it—I had a flare-up of ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease I’ve had since high school. While flare-ups of this condition manifest differently in each person, for me, they tend to come every few years in a fury, effectively chaining me to the nearest bathroom for a few months until I get things under control with the help of medication and diet shifts. This new normal for me gave way to a new normal in my relationship. We started talking very seriously about poop, which New York City–based psychologist and relationship expert Paulette Sherman, PsyD, says isn’t surprising because there’s nothing like a health issue to press a couple to chat about all the dirty details. “The value of health might supersede the usual value of decorum or privacy,” she says.
He even started setting a morning alarm for me to wake up 15 minutes before either of his two roommates so I could get my turn in the bathroom first. If that’s not romance, what is?
During this time, the notion of privacy couldn’t have felt farther from reach. I was often in pain, worried about whether the flare-up would heal itself without more aggressive medical attention, and always anxious about where the nearest bathroom was located. But he stuck by me as we made a game of creating a mental map of all the public restrooms in Lower Manhattan (just knowing every Starbucks location didn’t cut it). He even started setting a morning alarm for me to wake up 15 minutes before either of his two roommates so I could get my turn in the bathroom first and avoid an urgency emergency. We were in on it together, and if that’s not romance, what is?
Still, plenty of duos just aren’t down to barrel past what feels like the final frontier of bodily functions. Some go to pretty imaginative lengths to preserve the mystique, but there’s for sure a spectrum of how poop-positive and poop-tolerant you are as couple.
Least restrictive is not wanting to talk about toilet tribulations while eating because it’s “not appetizing” or whatever. But that kind of goes out the window when, after three visits to a restaurant’s sole single-stall bathroom within 15 minutes, you decide to run to not even your own but your boyfriend’s apartment to let your intestinal tract settle in peace while he enjoys the rest of his pierogi plate, wistfully aware of what you’re up to. (Or, as I fondly refer to it, the Veselka incident of 2013.) But I digress. These people can talk about having a stomach bug, being constipated, and might even warn each other on occasion to avoid the bathroom for 20 minutes because…y’know. To them, details aren’t necessary or funny—they’re the Upstanding Citizens of Grown-up Decorum.
Then there are the people who don’t talk about it. Ever. I have married friends who live in a one-bathroom apartment and never address the literal and proverbial smelly turd in the loo. The golden rule in these folks’ home is “whoever denied it supplied it,” and since they do indeed love and respect one another, no one ever brings up unfortunate odor wafts. Dr. Sherman says this “smell, don’t tell” tendency might have to do with how a person grew up. “Someone might come from a family where these types of things were private and were never discussed, so they may feel guilt or shame in doing so.” But despite this choice to vocally disregard the goings-on for whatever reason, both parties know what’s really up—and what’s getting flushed down.
Anyone who understands Santa Claus is just a seasonal employee at the mall should get that women know their way around a toilet.
Finally, what I sincerely hope to be smallest population of the non-poop couples is the sect among hetero duos in which the men say (because surely they can’t actually believe) that women don’t fart or poop. This immature mind-set—likely rooted in the notion that the natural and necessary function of going number two is unsexy and unfeminine—makes about as much sense as believing babies come from belly buttons. Basically, anyone who understands Santa Claus is just a seasonal employee at the mall should get that women know their way around a toilet.
While the (often literal) open-door policy my husband and I have regarding the bathroom isn’t for everyone, I can’t imagine living any other way. To those who say preserving the mystery and leaving certain topics untouched is alluring, I say that completely destigmatizing at least this big one is great for keeping my emotional health in check. After all, there are enough stressors in life without worrying about being “ladylike” during the 3 to 21 times a week I let my body do its natural thing.
Originally published October 4, 2018.
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