Thanks to everyone who came to yesterday’s gelato-eating and gab session. The best part was sitting at the table and being able to identify who was there for the meetup by their 1) excellent fashion choices 2) friendly demeanor and 3) carrying-of-books. I’m sure we’ll do other Chicago-based events, though as a reminder, you don’t have to wait for the team of Logic/Awkward/Machine if you want to plan something.
Today’s questions involve some gross bathroom problems so they are going behind a cut in case you’re reading this at lunch.
Captain Awkward et al,
I have a bit of a scatological problem with my partner. It’s not a big deal, but…he doesn’t have a very clear rear end. His boxers are skidmark heaven. This is not just a case of missing a little bit sometimes (which happens to the best of us!), but an ongoing situation. I know that this seems like an open – and – shut case of “Just Talk to Him,” but it is a little more complicated than that.
He had a major colon infection in college. I don’t know all the details, but I do know that it ended with two major surgeries where they removed a decent portion of his colon. He always talks about that experience as a terrible thing that happened to him, but treats it as something that is over, not something that has a lasting impact on our lives.
One more thing: His parents house is, on a cleanliness scale of 1-10, a 3. I’m not talking about clutter, I’m talking about mildew in the bathtub. When my partner and I moved in together, he was surprised to hear that using a toothbrush with mold on the handle was not an okay thing.
So here is my dilemma: If the doody undies are a result of his surgeries, I will consider this a low price to pay to get to wake up next to this guy. However, because of how he grew up, he legitimately may not know that the rest of us do not walk through life with burnt sienna drawers, and if it is changeable, I would like to alert him to this fact and get him to clean up.
It isn’t a huge deal, really. I only notice sometimes. The biggest real impact that it has is that he likes a little prostate stimulation now and again, and I would be way more okay with that if it wasn’t so gross back there.So, how do I say to my wonderful partner “Honey, your sleep shorts smell like shit and this is not normal?” without embarrassing him about what may be a legitimate physical condition? Or do I not say anything because it isn’t a deal breaker? I don’t want him to feel self-conscious around me!
Okay, I feel very comfortable saying this:
If you know you are going to have sex with someone, you should do your utmost to make sure your butt isn’t covered in poop and maybe also make sure that your overall “area”…especially any parts you want someone to touch with their mouth…is clean. If you want your partner to touch your butt in any way, this is not only suggested, but mandatory.
Sometimes sex happens spontaneously, before someone can complete such ministrations, or people are shaped in a way that they can’t reach everything, or disabled and need help, or they miss a spot for whatever reason. (I’m trying to get through this answer without saying, “Shit happens!” but obviously I’ve failed.) In such cases, if you notice something, it is entirely reasonable to say “Honey, can you clean up a bit more?” and if that sends the other person into paroxysms of shame, that’s not something you caused with your extremely reasonable request. Bodies are awesome but they are also weird and sometimes they leak.
And please, if someone asks you to clean up a little bit, it doesn’t mean they hate you or aren’t attracted to you or want you to feel ashamed of your body and gross and trigger all your insecurities at once. It means that they want you to clean your bottom so they can get back to the sexy things they were doing to it.
Of course every time you make a blanket statement like this, someone comes forward with an exception, so I’ll head you off at a couple of passes:
1) Any time you insert something into a bottom you risk encountering some trace amounts of poop. Okay, sure, the Risks We Run and so forth. Let’s let those be trace amounts, okay? As much as possible, start with a clean slate.
2) It is my understanding that certain fetishists enjoy poop or a dirty bottom. As long as you are consensual, careful about safety, and negotiate such play ahead of time with your partner, do your dirty deeds. It shouldn’t be a poop ambush, though.
Letter Writer #353, I weirdly love this question, both because the subject of your email was “It’s Howdy-Doody Time!” and because it so neatly lays out the case for boundaries.
Because even though you insist over and over that it’s “not a big deal,” you are allowed to have a reasonable expectation that your partner will clean his ass-area. It doesn’t have to be a make-or-break-up situation for it to bother you or for you to bring it up.
And even if it’s the result of some kind of medical condition or failure of upbringing that isn’t his fault, you STILL need him to clean his butt before bed.
The most respectful, least manipulative way to address something like this is head-on. Talk to your partner. Not during/immediately after/or right before sex – at some other time, when you’re both at home and awake and focused on each other.
“Partner, this is awkward, but I’ve noticed lately that there have been some cleanliness issues with your butt – both around the area itself and with your underwear. Have you noticed anything like that?“
(let him talk, adapt follow-up as necessary)
It helps when you bring up a problem like this if you can suggest concrete things that the person can do to make you happy. If they’re feeling defensive and helpless, you can refocus the conversation on actions. Their feelings are not yours to manage, but their actions affect you.
“In the short term, I need you to make sure you clean that area well before bed (so I can feel comfortable doing those things you like, which I also like). In the medium term, can you please make a doctor’s appointment? Even if it’s just to rule out any bigger problems, it would be good to get it checked out.“
Have the talk, see what he says, and the next time you notice a problem say gently “Hey, can you take a second and clean up?” The more direct and clear you are, the better. It’s okay to ask for this. And since we’re talking about hygiene: Inside a long-term relationship it’s good to get really comfortable with the other person’s body and understand that everyone farts sometimes and no one wakes up with minty-fresh breath, but the way you stay comfortable is to learn how to ask questions like “Can we continue this after we’ve both brushed our teeth?” or “Will you jump in the shower with me for a minute?“
Onward to #354.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a bit of an unusual relationship question that I was hoping you could help with.
I’m a mid-20′s straight-ish woman and for the past five years I’ve been in a wonderful relationship with a great feminist guy who works in the same field as me. We met in college. We’ve lived together since the middle of college and moved into a lovely but very small 1 bed 1 bath apartment last year near our offices right after we graduated. My problem is that in the past two years he has begun to spend a tremendous amount of time in the bathroom. Some days he will wake up in the morning, grab his laptop or our iPad and spend 2-3 hours sitting on the toilet in our bathroom. Some days when we get home from work he will grab his laptop or the iPad as soon as we get home and then spend the entire evening on the toilet until we go to sleep.
I told him that I don’t care how much porn he watches or reads because I like porn too, but he told me he’s actually usually just reading american comics or manga in there anyway and he sits on the toilet because his ‘stomach hurts a little or he ‘has a bit of gas’ and ‘wants to be comfortable while reading.’ I’ve peeked in a few times when the door has been cracked and he’s literally just been sitting there reading comics on the ipad. I told him that even if he just wants to read comics all evening every evening it would be a little nicer if he didn’t have to spend all that time locked up in the bathroom. I asked him if he was holing himself up in the bathroom all the time because he wanted to avoid me and he told me “no” and seemed hurt at the suggestion. I told him that if he wanted some quiet time alone I understood, but it would maybe be a bit better if he spent his alone time in the bedroom instead of the bathroom because sometimes I need to pee.
We went to a doctor and the doctor told him he was perfectly fine aside from a bit of heartburn and stress, then gave him some heartburn medication and sent him on his way. Despite taking the heartburn medication and feeling better, my boyfriend has continued to spend excessive amounts of time in the bathroom.
My biggest problem with the whole thing is that sometimes this presents a bit of a logistical problem for me because we have only one bathroom. Whenever I ask him when he will be out he only ever responds with “soon” and “soon” can mean anything from 2 minutes to another hour. I’ve told him exactly this, but his response has been to get defensive and say “But I told you soon! Soon means soon!” This has come to a head on two separate occasions when he came out of the bathroom only to find me crying because I had to pee in the sink out of sheer desperation. Each time he apologized to me and promised to be more considerate in the future, but then over the course of a week or so slipped back into his old ways. Not only does his time in the bathroom keep me from peeing in a timely or normal fashion, but it also interferes with our social lives. Some weekend mornings I’ll have to spend hours pacing around the apartment or reading the internet while waiting for him to get out of the bathroom because I need to brush my teeth or take a shower or something before I go out. He won’t let me into the bathroom while he’s in there because he “can’t pee while anyone is watching.” Most nights I can’t go to sleep until he leaves the bathroom because I need to brush my teeth or pee before sleeping. Sometimes this keeps me up pretty late at night and I’m very tired during work the next morning. A few weeks ago we missed brunch with his sister on her birthday because he spent all morning in the bathroom.
Captain Awkward, please help! I don’t know how to tell him how much this hurts me without offending him! I told him a few times that sometimes I need to use the bathroom too and spending all of his time in there is a bit inconsiderate and each time I brought it up he was very annoyed and defensive and told me that he always moves “as fast has he can” and that I should just wait because he will be out “soon” but, as I said before…sometimes his “soon” can take half an hour or an hour.
What do I do? At this point I’m at my wits end! I would love to move to a two-bathroom apartment, but that’s just not in the cards for us right now.
-Boyfriend Won’t Leave the Bathroom
This dovetails nicely with the last question, not just because of the bathroom connection.
Something is going on with your partner’s health – whether it’s physical health or mental health, we can’t say (and as a reminder, site policy is that we do not try to diagnose strangers through the internet) – but it’s probable that, even if this started out as a weird-but-benign habit, his relationship with bathroom time has spiraled out of his own control.
So again, something is going on that may not be entirely your partner’s “fault.”
But again, you need to be able to go to the bathroom in your home where you live. You need to be able to get ready for bed, for work, and for social engagements in a timely manner. You NEED this stuff. You can’t make yourself not need this stuff, and you need it pretty much when you need it.
Whatever the cause, his behavior is affecting you adversely. Holding in your urine for long periods of time can cause serious medical conditions – bladder infections, kidney infections - and lead to incontinence later in life. You don’t want to die like Tycho Brahe. So this letter made me really, really angry at your partner. You shouldn’t be peeing in a sink. You shouldn’t be staying up later than your bedtime. You shouldn’t be crying from frustration over a basic biological necessity. Most adults urinate 4-7 times/day, so that means that this is a problem for you 4-7 times a day.
I know you love this guy very much, but I really want you to take care of your own needs and put some boundaries in place for yourself. You said that you want to do this without offending him, or without making him (more) defensive and angry, but I’m afraid that’s not possible. He is INJURING YOU. He is disrespecting you. He is controlling one of the resources of your shared home so that you can’t have access to it. When you ask him to get out of the bathroom and he says “soon” but does not get out soon, he is LYING TO YOU.
You can’t control anything about how he will feel, but you must speak up for your needs or risk doing real and lasting harm to yourself. I know it feels like speaking up firmly about this means that you risk hurting his feelings or making trouble in your relationship, but there is already trouble in your relationship. A lot of trouble. If the relationship isn’t working for you, then it isn’t working. If you can’t take a piss in your own house within reasonable expectations, it is not working, and the fact that he’s a “great feminist guy” matters not.
Oh, I am so angry, LW. So angry. But let’s keep this concrete and focused. Here are some suggested things to ask for.
1) When you knock on the door and say you need to get into the bathroom, that is a two-minute warning for him to wrap things up and let you into the bathroom. “Soon” is bullshit. You will set a timer, and when it goes off, he vacates the premises without complaint. He can go right back in after he lets you pee or whatever. Script: “It’s been two minutes. I need you to come out right now. You can go right back in when I’m done, but I refuse to pee in the sink or hold it until you decide that I get to go to the bathroom.“
2) Between x o’clock and x-thirty in the morning is your shower/getting ready time. He cannot be in the bathroom during that time.
3) On work/school nights, between x o’clock and y o’clock pm is your bathroom time. He cannot be in the bathroom during that time.
And let’s be clear: Should you miss that window for some reason – oversleeping, staying out late at a social engagement, your 30-40 minutes of uninterrupted bathroom time starts when you say it does.
Who is a friend or family member who lives close by that you could stay with? Because I think that if he does not respect these requests and makes you fight about them and push for them all the time, you need to be able to say “Okay then” and take a bag of your stuff and go somewhere else for (at least) 24-48 hours.
Within Two Weeks:
You will be making an appointment with a couple’s counselor. The topic: His bathroom time and how it affects your relationship. He will pay for at least 1/2 of the counseling sessions, he will attend them and be honest, and he will work with you on getting to the bottom of what’s going on here, even if it means seeking additional mental health treatment/medical treatment on his own.
Within One Month:
He is demonstrably working with you on fixing this and actively pursuing some kind of treatment. You have noticeably less friction around the bathroom and have no trouble using it when you need to. He has apologized thoroughly for his behavior.
If it is not demonstrably better, please get yourself out of that house where you can’t pee. I think Evil Bees might live there, for real.