Why tipsy girls in bar bathrooms want to be best friends

First-year pre-med major Chelsea sat on her bed, scrolling through Instagram.

“Last night, I gave a drunk girl in the bathroom a hair elastic, and she invited me to her wedding in January,” one viral tweet read.

“OMG. Me,” Chelsea said aloud.  

The “drunk girl in the bathroom” phenomenon has graced college campuses across the country. There are plenty of memes and videos on social media sites to prove it.

This movement — the culture of drunken camaraderie in women’s restrooms — began showing up on social media over the last few years. The social connections between drunk young women that happen on college campuses across the country express a level of  blatant kindness that rarely occurs anywhere else.

But why?

This question has gained enough momentum to not only attract the attention of college girls lazily scrolling through Instagram in bed but also of academics who study this kind of social phenomenon.

Rose Marie Ward, a professor in Miami University’s Department of Kinesiology and Health and associate dean for academic affairs, first became familiar with women supporting one another while drunk when a few of her graduate research students played her video clips off  YouTube.

“They’d pull up clips, and I would be like, ‘What? Girl in bathroom?’” Ward said. She thought there was no way this could be an actual thing.

Ward specializes in researching Miami’s drinking culture and was inspired to find out what goes on behind the closed bathroom doors at Brick Street after realizing this was more than just a YouTube trend.

Chelsea said the typical drunk girl bathroom interaction she’s had on a Saturday at Brick Street Bar goes something like this:

You’re so beautiful, like, where did you get your top from? You’re, like, literally so beautiful — don’t let anyone ever tell you different.

After compiling field work, Ward and her team of graduate students discovered there are three different types of exchanges that occur between drunk college women in the bathroom: complimenting an outfit or overall appearance, consoling a crying girl and exchanging contact information.  

“Several patterns of behaviors have evolved because it almost speaks to women needing a space where they are experiencing something and just want a comfort group,” Ward said. “And it happened to evolve in a bathroom.”  

Just this past weekend, Chelsea ran into a girl in a fraternity bathroom and thought she might’ve recognized her. The two started talking about the boys who invited them to the party and realized that Chelsea had hooked up with the girl’s date on a previous occasion.

After delving deeper into their history of hookups, it was revealed that they had hooked up with several of the same guys. Their uncontrollable laughter reverberated off of the faded tiled walls while they shouted,  “No way!”

The two exchanged phone numbers, Snapchat usernames and Instagram handles, and agreed to hang out the next day. They Snapchatted each other, despite failing to make plans to get together.

Drunkenly discovering new friendships isn’t new to today’s generation of college students, though.  

Elizabeth Hand, an instructional coach advisor in Rockford, Illinois, public schools, was among one of the many moms in town for a sorority mom’s weekend recently.

“You should consider working in a school district, ‘cause guess what, you get to take three months off for summer,” Hand said to a drunk college girl in the Brick bathroom line.

The girl had expressed an interest in working in education, and Hand continued to give her career advice as they both sipped their drinks.

The student had just finished telling Hand about the rumored sample of STDs grown in a petri dish swiped from the dance floor of a local bar before they parted ways.

While memes depicting drunken women complementing one another are relatively new, women have been supporting one another in and out of bathroom lines and stalls for decades. Social media has simply capitalized on the phenomenon.  

“People will do things on social media to get that feedback,” Ward said. “People will post a picture for that same reason, so the bathroom has become an in-person safe space to get that stranger [or] acquaintance feedback.”

“Yeah, I always give compliments in the bathroom, ‘cause I’m bored and fucking around,” Chelsea said.

Moments later, she acknowledged that she likes complimenting girls because she knows they will compliment her in return.

In short, it appears that when social barriers are lowered — due either to drunkenness or the protection of a screen and a username — people feel more comfortable approaching and talking to strangers, especially in a non-threatening environment such as a women’s restroom, or the comment section of an Instagram post.

“One of my best friends I met in the bathroom drunk,” Chelsea said. “I complimented her shirt or something, and she was like ‘Oh my god, thank you, what’s your name?’”

wolffrg@miamioh.edu  

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