A Book Review: What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding

It's so easy to feel like everything's wrong in your life. Really.

This is the thing: my Facebook feed, which I can't keep my hands off most days, is busting at the seams with photos of children, babies, weddings or engagements. While I don't exactly abhor the idea of getting married, of procreation and building a family, it's not exactly where I am right now. Like any normal human being, I'd go into a fit of wondering if I should be in this path now, too {more of 28 year old me.} Current me kind of doesn't care as much. I do ogle cute babies, though.

It's so easy to fall into that trap, that bandwagon, when you don't watch what you consume, media included. Especially a social network that's largely dominated by mothers {Facebook}, well, what do you expect to see but cute photos of babies, debates on breastfeeding, vaccination and natural birth advantages.

It could feel rather hopeless, sometimes. So I turned outside of my feed and found my way in the throes of this wonderful book that echoes a wee bit some of my thoughts:

A funny, sexy, and ultimately poignant memoir about mastering the art of the "vacationship." 

Kristin Newman spent much of her twenties and thirties buying dresses to wear to her friends' weddings and baby showers. Not ready to settle down and in need of an escape from her fast-paced job as a sitcom writer, Kristin instead traveled the world, often alone, for several weeks each year. In addition to falling madly in love with the planet, Kristin fell for many attractive locals, men who could provide the emotional connection she wanted without costing her the freedom she desperately needed.

Kristin introduces readers to the Israeli bartenders, Finnish poker players, sexy Bedouins, and Argentinean priests who helped her transform into "Kristin-Adjacent" on the road–a slower, softer, and, yes, sluttier version of herself at home. Equal parts laugh-out-loud storytelling, candid reflection, and wanderlust-inspiring travel tales, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding is a compelling debut that will have readers rushing to renew their passports. - Amazon

The book is pretty reminiscent of another favorite, Liz Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. Can't help but agree how Kristin called "traveling as the new symbol that replaced the cat lady." The woman has traveled extensively and have had interesting travels to Iceland, Amsterdam, Tibet, among others. Hers is the kind of travel history I'd have loved to have. A sitcom writer for Chuck, That 70s Show and How I Met Your Mother, Kristin would often travel for months in between writing seasons and come with fresh TV show ideas {remember that Robin episode where she comes home with an Argentinian lover? Uh huh.}

Kristin bravely explores the doing as the Romans do in every city she goes into, she fearlessly gets into vacationships --- it was quite evident that she was in it for the fleetingness of it all, never for a steady thing. Kristin, for me, echoes the voice of us women who for some reason, have not, can't or don't want to build families just yet {or ever} and would rather explore the world than breed. In no way does she make it seem like being single is better -- this is something that needs to be said at the get go. This was her journey, and for sure, would resonate with a lot of women in the world.

I have no vacationships to talk of, and the list of countries I've been to are minimal, but nonetheless, I found myself laughing so hard at her quips and antics. I particularly remember her insight that men who come from war-stricken countries such as Russia and Israel made love more passionately than others. I loved Kristin's commandments when choosing a travel companion, too. 

  1. You are open. You say yes to whatever comes your way, whether it’s shots of a putrid-smelling yak-butter tea or an offer for an Albanian toe-licking. (How else are you going to get the volcano dust off?) You say yes because it is the only way to really experience another place, and let it change you. Which, in my opinion, is the mark of a great trip.

  2. You venture to the places where the tourists aren’t, in addition to hitting the “must-sees.” If you are exclusively visiting places where busloads of Chinese are following a woman with a flag and a bullhorn, you’re not doing it.

  3. You are easygoing about sleeping/eating/comfort issues. You don’t change rooms three times, you’ll take an overnight bus if you must, you can go without meat in India and without vegan soy gluten-free tempeh butter in Bolivia, and you can shut the hell up about it.

  4. You are aware of your travel companions, and of not being contrary to their desires/eeds/chedules more often than necessary. If you find that you want to do things differently than your companions, you happily tell them to go on without you in a way that does not sound like you’re saying, “This is a test.”

  5. You can figure it out. How to read a map, how to order when you can’t read the menu, how to find a bathroom, or a train, or a castle.

  6. You know what the trip is going to cost, and can afford it. If you can’t afford the trip, you don’t go. Conversely, if your travel companions can’t afford what you can afford, you are willing to slum it in the name of camaraderie. P.S.: Attractive single people almost exclusively stay at dumps. If you’re looking for them, don’t go posh.

  7. You are aware of cultural differences, and go out of your way to blend. You don’t wear booty shorts to the Western Wall on Shabbat. You do hike your bathing suit up your booty on the beach in Brazil. Basically, just be aware to show the culturally correct amount of booty.

  8. You behave yourself when dealing with local hotel clerks/rain operators/our guides etc. Whether it’s for selfish gain, helping the reputation of Americans traveling abroad, or simply the spreading of good vibes, you will make nice even when faced with cultural frustrations and repeated smug “not possible”s. This was an especially important trait for an American traveling during the George W. years, when the world collectively thought we were all either mentally disabled or bent on world destruction. (One anecdote from that dark time: in Greece, I came back to my table at a café to find that Emma had let a nearby [handsome] Greek stranger pick my camera up off our table. He had then stuck it down the front of his pants for a photo. After he snapped it, he handed the camera back to me and said, “Show that to George Bush.” Which was obviously extra funny because of the word bush.)

  9. This last rule is the most important to me: you are able to go with the flow in a spontaneous, non-uptight way if you stumble into something amazing that will bump some plan off the day’s schedule. So you “missed the freakin’ waterfall—you got invited to a Bahamian family’s post-Christening barbecue where you danced with three generations of locals in a backyard under flower-strewn balconies. You won. Shut the hell up about the waterfall.

There are no grand philosophies of some sort here --- that's not really what you can glean from here. Kristin promises a funny ride - and it is. I brought this book with me to Siargao and I have been chuckling the whole time. By myself. How apropos.

More importantly, it's a welcome refuge for us women who haven't/can't/don't want to breed just yet. It's a live affirmation that somewhere in the other side of the world, another soul who's wondering: "

Why can't I commit?"
"Why don't I want to become a mother just yet?"

However, my most favorite part would have to be the last few chapters. And if you're planning to read it, stop it right here because I'm about to give you spoilers. 

Kristin eventually finds somebody to commit to, a man who lives a few blocks from her house. I wouldn't go into detail on how it happens but it's all too serendipitous,  but I remember her philosophy of polepole or taking it very slow, since the man was divorced and had kids of his own. I was pleasantly surprised that endings, at least for this woman, and that phase of her life, had a good one, no matter what form it came in. It was refreshing, hopeful and it made me cheer for her like she was a good friend I was having wine with. It reminded me of friends I've had for a long time, whose rocky love lives I've seen flail from one rock to another, only to find themselves in the arms of the love they deserved after some time.

WIWDWYB is easily one of my favorite reads to date. I had to secure my copy online as I couldn't find it anywhere locally. I'd buy a physical copy if I can find one though. And I'd treat the author to a glass of wine if I ever met her.

And if anything else, it teaches me to stay away from Facebook whenever I can, if I can.