There’s always been a crowd in the ladies’ room.

“Oh good. I hate this quadrille. Grab your drink and let’s go to the ladies’ room.”

Why do women go to the bathroom in groups?

It’s supposedly the number one question men have about female behavior, right?

Or at least it’s the most inoffensive one they can post on Facebook. I’ve heard this question an uncountable number of times since I was a teen.  A quick search reveals that hundreds of versions of this question are posted on those online answers forums.

And despite the fact that this question has been answered literally thousands of times, it’s still been the foundation of many a lame comic routine.

There are lots of reasons why we women go to the bathroom together:

  • We want to talk  among ourselves.
  • We want to talk about the guys we’ve left at the table.
  • One of us made an unwise wardrobe choice and now requires assistance.
  • We need a break from the party and none of us smoke.
  • One of us needs to escape, and we’re aware that while only the most restraining-order-worthy of suitors would track a girl into a restroom, it is a rare gentleman indeed who will follow six women into a restroom.

And that brings me to the point I’m trying to make. Safety in numbers. The restrooms don’t usually occupy an establishment’s prime real estate. I’ve had to walk down some pretty scuzzy hallways to find the ladies’ room, and there have been times when I’ve wished for the company of a pack of friends as I edged my way across a packed bar, ducked down a hallway, climbed down a dark set of narrow stairs in heels and finally found myself in a dimly-lit basement lav trying had not to think of Buffalo Bill’s underground lair in Silence of the Lambs.

And then you have to get back upstairs to your drink.

I hate to admit it, but we ladies have traditionally stuck together the way prey animals stick together. Sometimes it’s paranoid. Sometimes it’s just good sense. Most of the time it’s been for protection, either the protection of our selves or, back in the day, for the protection of our reputations.

Check out this excerpt from Manners, culture and dress of the best American society, an etiquette book written in 1890 by Richard A. Wells.

“Married or young ladies, cannot leave a ball-room or any other party, alone. The former should be accompanied by one or two other married ladies, and the latter by their mother, or by a lady to represent her.”

Ladies, notes Wells, should also not cross the ballroom floor alone. It’s 2012 and I’m a liberated woman, but I have to admit, there exist some modern ballroom floors that I would not want to cross alone.

So women were leaving parties in groups more than a hundred years ago, not necessarily for safety, but so that their reputations were undamaged. At best, this was so none of them were seen to be sneaking off by themselves and at worst, it was because they were all keeping an eye on each other.

Maybe it was also for safety, because back in 1890 not a lot of people had indoor toilets, and really if you think about it, going outside is worse than any New York City toilet. Men could just find a convenient shrubbery, but ladies,  if you have to go outside in the dark to do your thing in a ballgown, do you want to go it alone, or do you want two close friends to hold your fan and your dance card and guard the jakes door?