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The Communal Challenge

When it comes to bathroom behaviour, is sharing your significant other’s beauty and grooming products acceptable, or should there be a clearly defined line…
 
In Akshay Kumar’s Bollywood film Toilet: Ek Prem Kath, a woman ditches her relationship on her first day of marriage when she realizes her new home does not have a toilet. Her bathroom behaviour, so to speak, creates an uproar within the community, sparking an idealistic quest for modern sanitation and a great conversation opener about bathroom expectations and etiquette. It also makes squabbling over whose turn it is to pick up more toilet paper seem trivial now, doesn’t it? And yet, we all do it.
 
Think about it: you and your significant other (SO) of x number of years are finally sharing a postal code. So far, co-habitation has been good. Easy, even. Well…mostly. You do the grocery shopping and cleanup; your SO does the cooking. You take out the garbage; your SO shovels the walk. You replace the toothpaste cap; your SO leaves it off so the toothpaste dries out and gets a thick crusty outer layer that takes 10 minutes to scrape off with a knife. You buy expensive face cream; your SO likes its fresh scent so much it’s slathered on daily from head to toe. You jump in the shower to wash your hair; your SO has used all of the shampoo and left the empty bottle for you to replace. Reality is, no matter how in synch you and your partner may be in life and in every other room of the house, the bathroom is its own domain, and co-existing withinit can push all kinds of buttons.
 
“Bathrooms are, hands down, the most private room of the house,” explains Karen Cleveland, an etiquette advisor in Toronto. “If we’ve lived on our own before moving in with someone, we’re used to having our own time and space to get ready. Every couple has to figure out what works for them, but a great place to start is to agree on whether your bathroom products are yours or if they are communal.”
 
Choose the what’s-mine-is-mine route and you’re living by Elton John and Josh Flagg’s rumoured preference with their respective husbands, not to mention Sir Michael Caine’s lifelong rule. The two-time Oscar winner has been known to pontificate that “the secret to a happy marriage is having separate bathrooms.” But if you’re more like the 1.9 million Canadians who Statistics Canada reports are living in condos, and/or if you were born during the sharing-is-caring/one-love 1960s and ’70s, chances are you’re opting for the communal challenge.
 
“Sharing your beauty and/or grooming products can be very comfortable, convenient and even cost effective,” says Rachel Zipperian, the beauty scientist for Herbal Essences. “But this is only the case if both parties are getting the same pleasant return; otherwise, sharing products can sometimes lead to conflicts.” 
 
Deciding who gets more counter space, if you have a locked-door or open-door policy, or whether to squeeze toothpaste from the middle of the tube or from the bottom: these are par-for-the-course conversations. More challenging discussions can range from agreeing on a budget for your products or finding a happy medium between buying a bar of soap or the Olay Daily Moisture Quench Body Wash (the answer, BTW, is both), to the value of indulging in a five-step skincare routine and agreeing that, yes, you can split the Gillette on Demand razor subscription.
 
“As a general rule, choose the best product for you,” advises Zipperian. “If this happens to also be the best product for your significant other, great – but know that beauty and grooming solutions are not a one size fits all. Picking the best items should be based on what your hair and skin needs to be healthy and protected, and these can be very individual needs.”
 
Factors to consider when divvying products include your skin and hair types (you may be super dry; your SO may be greasy); whether you or your partner have skin or olfactory sensitivities or allergies to ingredients; your general consumption (perhaps you use handfuls of shampoo and conditioner every day, while your SO sprays in Herbal Essences Cucumber and Green Tea Dry Shampoo three times a week); the amount of time you actually want to spend in the bathroom; and your GAF meter, because it’s not a compromise if you don’t really care what kind of fragrance you use, so long as there’s something in the medicine cabinet to spritz on. “Shop for products together,” recommends Cleveland. “You might find an amazing new line that you both love.” Collaboration will make running your errands more fun and can even help to avoid unexpected conflict.
 
“For many, time spent in the shower and in getting ready is a true escape from the stress of the day,” adds Zippering. “When that time, space or product is disturbed, it can kill those good vibes. The last thing you want to do is make your relaxing retreat a battleground or source of additional stress. Boundaries and clear rules go a long way in creating a happy bathroom space.”
 
Knowing your boundaries and setting them is not only a smart choice, it’s a healthy one. Double-dipping into the same skin cream jar, applying mascara from a shared tube, washing your face and body with a communal washcloth or loofah, and brushing your teeth with your SO’s toothbrush are all grounds for cross-contamination of viruses and bacteria such as staph infections, the flu, strep throat, warts, fungal infections, pink eye or worse. “Some products can be dangerous or unsanitary to share,” affirms Zipperian. “You want to be careful not to share items that can transfer harmful germs.” Additionally, grooming tools such as razors, nail clippers and tweezers are often covered in microscopic spots of your blood, as razors can make teeny-tiny nicks in your skin while tweezer-plucked hairs often make your skin bleed.
 
At the end of the day, if you’ve created boundaries and set expectations, and still the bathroom wars continue about who didn’t flush the toilet, left the cap off the toothpaste or used all of the hairspray, what do you do? The only thing you can: stay calm (be thankful you have a bathroom!) and know that time will smooth out the rest of the hiccups.
 
“Especially if you put the cap on the toothpaste and go kiss your honey,” says Cleveland. “Domestic bliss doesn’t leave a lot of room for quibbling.”
 

 
ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based, lifestyle-magazine pro who has travelled the globe writing about must-spritz fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.
 

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