What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

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My grandmother once told me, “Don’t live alone for too long because you will enjoy it too much and then never be able to get married.” Given that she had a long and very happy marriage to my grandfather that started young and ended only when he died, I don’t think she meant that quite as it came across. But it stayed with me and I made it to the other side of thirty without a ring on my finger—without wanting a ring on my finger. As more and more of my friends got engaged, I was worried that something was wrong with me for not wanting that. I was worried that my grandmother was right – I had become accustomed to enjoying life alone far too much.

In her hilarious and sexy memoir, What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, comedy writer Kristen Newman (I keep instinctively typing Kristen Stewart. Sorry, Kristin Newman), who has written for That ’70s Show, Chuck, How I Met Your Mother, and The Neighbors, battles her own desire to stay single and travel the world.

For Newman, as for me, a relationship is not about escaping singlehood; ideally a relationship is a difficult choice between loving being alone and loving being with a certain person, and everything that goes with it. She writes:

If you’re lucky, and healthy, and live in a country where you have enough to eat and no fear that you’re going to get shot when you walk out your door, life is an endless series of choosing between two things you want almost equally. And you have to evaluate and determine which awesome thing you want infinitesimally more, and then give up that other awesome thing you want almost exactly as much. You have to trade awesome for awesome.

It sounds so simple. But as any unmarried woman in her thirties will tell you, we are often made to feel like we are definitely, certainly, without a doubt, missing out. And some militantly single women make their married or partnered friends feel the same way about their choice. But Newman has it right: To be able to choose between two things you love is a wonderful luxury.

After ending a long-term relationship in her twenties, Newman starts to travel, originally as an escape, but increasingly for pure pleasure. The chapters chart, in chronological order, her international travels and sexual and romantic escapades around the world.

“I am not a slut in the United States of America,” she begins. “But I really love to travel.”

Kristin Newman

Kristin Newman

Newman is a huge believer in “doing the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it.” And this often means men. Over the years, she finds herself with a Russian bartender (and other bartenders follow – everyone knows bartenders are a single female traveler’s best friend), an Argentine priest, a Brazilian surfer, an Israeli soldier and countless more. In the Dominican Republic, Will Forte drives over her foot.

This is a book written by a comedy writer and it is funny and honest. Perhaps more importantly, however, it is a book written by a sensitive traveler. Through the sex, through the men, we get to follow Newman around the world. She writes about other countries and other people with a curiosity and affection that is crucial to being a good travel writer. I found myself, as an Indian, wishing Newman would make her way there and report back to me about my own country. Reading this book is like traveling with your funniest friend and seeing the world through her eyes. About Iceland, she writes:

Icelanders love to tell you that it’s a stereotype that they all believe in otherwordly creatures. And then you read about the Iceland Road Authority bringing in a medium to ask the elves who reside in a pile of rocks if the elves would mind if the rocks were moved.

The comedy and the travel details are what sustain this book. The stories with the men tend to get a touch redundant and I found myself unable to keep most of them separate or significant – most are not meant to be significant, of course, but the similar stories lose their individuality. Is this the effect Newman was going for? Perhaps. She is certainly deft enough as a writer to pull that off. As she gets older, and perhaps wiser, the sex becomes secondary.

Small side note that should be trivial in 2015 but sadly is not: we all know women are not often allowed to speak about their sexual escapades with the same pride that men are. It is always nice to see a woman write so candidly about her sex life without apology and without acting coy about it. (Carrie Bradshaw, I am pointing my finger directly at you.)

The real gems in this book are the moments of irreverence and Newman’s willingness to say things that most people would not. I wish she would let loose a little bit more and do this more often. At one point she says that she does not like to sleep with Asian men because they are too tiny and hairless.

This is a book about so much: Friendship, love, sex, independence, travel, sitcom writing, family, self-destruction, self-confidence. It has it all and you should read it.

I’ll close with a spoiler alert, even though this doesn’t really spoil anything. Newman’s dedication at the front of the book includes this:

And to one more person,

but that dedication has to come at the end,

or it’ll spoil the whole story…

And I recently got engaged. My grandmother is very happy.

Diksha Basu is the author of The Windfall. You can find her on Twitter @dikshabasu. More from this author →