Paruresis, or shy bladder syndrome, even afflicts people who aren’t remotely shy, like Zach Rosenberg, who is terrified of the workplace urinal.
I’m looking down. I’m inaudibly—that’s the hope at least—saying “please please please” to myself. Inside I’m crying. I’m also holding my penis.
I’m standing at a urinal in the company bathroom and I can’t pee. I’m next to another man, just as I am every day in this company of 200 people.
I was here first, mind you. No one was around so I bellied-up to the first urinal, next to the wall. The hope is that if someone else comes in, they’ll just use the short urinal and leave a gap between us, though I’m not sure if that’d even help me.
Just as I was ready to urinate, a guy walks in. I don’t know who. My peripheral vision was blurry, and as per standard man rules, no one talks while at the urinal because there’s something about talking to a man while you both hold your penises.
I can’t imagine, for the record, how women go to the bathroom together at restaurants and events.
So the other guy finishes, flushes, and that’s when I realize I’ve got to flush too because I was here before him. And simple logic would dictate that I must be done too: If I heard his pee hitting the back of the urinal, then he’d have heard mine. I must be done. So, I’ve got to flush and leave, even though I never peed. There’s only one thing worse than peeing next to a man for me and that’s the fear of being called-out for not being able to pee next to a man.
At my old job, I was outed. I stepped up to a urinal as a coworker was washing his hands. He asked me how I’m doing. I shyly answered and tried to pee. But my coworker noticed I was shying away from conversation and also that there was no noise coming from, well, a satisfying waterfall of urine leaving me.
“Am I making you nervous?” my coworker asks. I can hear the wide-eyed, gaping-mouthed smile behind me as if he’s found out some incredible secret that could ruin me.
“Yes, okay? YES. I can’t do it when people watch me,” I answer.
“Oh my god,” he cuts in, taking another step closer. “This is great! You can’t pee while I’m standing here! Go ahead. Pee. Just go. C’mon.”
My face was getting hot. I could feel my fingers gripping my penis, nearly tearing straight through it.
“THERE, ASSHOLE. Are you happy now,” I proudly asked in my one-of-the-boys voice as my body went into emergency mode and helped me avoid relative disaster. “Want me to save some for you?” I know how to turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak.
I don’t know why I have a problem peeing around other men. I’ve always been shy. I remember when I was young, maybe 8 or 9 years old tops, I had a problem at camp changing into my swimsuit in front of the other 12 boys. I remember it being terrible. Somehow the issue was raised to my counselors (possibly when I declined swimming for days in a row, yet they knew I had a swimming pool at home), and they’d asked if I could just use a bathroom stall. “They’ll make fun of me,” I answered. I knew it for a fact because I’d heard them make fun of another boy for being shy. The counselors allowed me to use another bathroom away from everyone.
Now, I’m an adult. I’ve got a son. I had to potty train him. And thank god he’s a fast learner because I barely let him watch me. When he first showed interest in potty training, I’d let my son watch. “Go, daddy,” my son would demand. I’d concentrate harder, trying to wring my bladder out with my inside muscles. His impatience made me slower.
The times I let him watch, I’d shoo him away the moment I stopped peeing, belting out “show’s over, buddy.” Other times, I’d flat-out not let him watch on the grounds that “he knows by now.” I feel bad. I mean, it’s father-son bonding. It’s no playing catch or teaching him to play poker, but it’s a basic generational male how-to lesson. It’s a rite of passage that I felt uncomfortable passing.
Here, today, my danger zone is radiating with the heat of one thousand suns. I’ve got to go. Bad. But I know it’s now after lunch hour and the bathroom will be a meat market of men fire-hosing all over the place. If I step up to a urinal, I won’t be able to go and will have to pretend that everyone just couldn’t hear my ghost urine. Or, I go into a stall and people see my feet facing toward the toilet and they think “that guy’s got a problem peeing around other men.”
I wonder frequently how many other men have this problem. It’s not something you typically bring up in any gatherings anyway. It’s bathroom talk. All I can continue to do is, unfortunately, keep trying to pee next to other people. But if I’m standing next to you at a urinal and you don’t hear so much as a drop falling from me, it’s not the time to pat me on the back and say encouraging things. Just pack up your piece, wash your hands and hit the road so I can go myself and work on filling the tank back up…it’s afternoon coffee time.