What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding

A home run is when you’ve stopped having sex altogether and start a book club.)

And I would tell him, so full of twentysomething wisdom, that life is almost never about choosing between one thing you really want and another thing you don't want at all. 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. Everyone I knew, no matter what they chose, was at least a little in mourning for that other thing.

And then there I was, literally tenderized like pounded meat by my year of work, failure, and physical and emotional battering. My New Zealand beach realization that I was ready for all of the things I had feared I was too broken to ever want felt both good because it meant that I was normal, but also terrifying. I was normal. Years later, Lena Dunham’s character on Girls would have a similar moment when she broke down and wept to a nice, handsome doctor with a beautiful house, “Please don’t tell anyone this, but I want to be happy … I want all the things everyone wants.” I was embarrassed to be a thirty-five-year-old woman who was looking for true love, and a family. It was so freaking typical. But I was also deeply relieved that I’d finally gotten there.

cats used to be the sign of a terminally single woman, but

Everyone I knew, no matter what they chose, was at least a little in mourning for that other thing.

Getting married young is gambling on a game you don’t know how to play. You don’t know who either of you is going to become. If you get married before you are fully cooked, you have no idea if you are marrying someone who will ultimately be compatible with you. 2.

I always say that I need to travel to keep from dying of boredom from my own internal monologue. I think that, generally, most of us have a total of about twenty thoughts. And we just scroll through those thoughts, over and over again, in varying order, all day every day.

I asked her about the love question—if you get married a few dates into meeting someone, you clearly can’t love them yet. You’re just betting that you someday will. I told her about how I had spent my adult life saying the same thing: I’m not looking for a particular person, I’m looking for a particular feeling. I wanted to feel over-the-moon in love with someone. I thought that was how I would know he was The One. So I found it amazing that couples were committing their lives to each other before they knew each other well enough to know if they could love each other. “In Judaism, the way you learn to love someone is by giving to them,” she said. “The more you give to a person, the more you end up loving them. If love is just a feeling, and that feeling changes, then what? Love has to be something you choose to build.” She

I asked if he thought Jesus would have been anything more than a world-changing ethicist if he had lived during the era of Internet fact-checking or flash photography. But

I love that I am but one of millions of single girls hitting the road by themselves these days. A hateful little ex-boyfriend once said that a houseful of cats used to be the sign of a terminally single woman, but not it's a house full of souvenirs acquired on foreign adventures. He said it derogatorily: Look at all of this tragic overcompensating in the form of tribal masks and rain sticks. But I say that plane tickets replacing cats might be the best evidence of women's progress as a gender. I'm damn proud of us. Also, since I have both a cat and a lot of foreign souvenirs, I broke up with that dude and went on a really great trip.

In Judaism, the way you learn to love someone is by giving to them,” she said. “The more you give to a person, the more you end up loving them. If love is just a feeling, and that feeling changes, then what? Love has to be something you choose to build.

I probably should say that this is what makes you a good traveler in my opinion, but deep down I really think this is just universal, incontrovertible truth. There is the right way to travel, and the wrong way. And if there is one philanthropic deed that can come from this book, maybe it will be that I teach a few more people how to do it right. So, in short, my list of what makes a good traveler, which I recommend you use when interviewing your next potential trip partner: 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/?needs/?schedules 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/?train operators/?tour 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. Sally

I wanted love, but I also wanted freedom and adventure, and those two desires fought like angry obese sumo wrestlers in the dojo of my soul.

I would eventually realize that I didn't want to be with Ferris any more than he wanted to be with me--we were way too much alike. Remember that in the movie, Ferris doesn't date a female Ferris. He dates Solane--the one on the ground looking up at him adoringly as he goes by on the float, wondering, How does he do it? I wasn't that girl. I wanted to be up on the float.

I would go home feeling like I had had a real adventure, on my own, without a boyfriend. I’d learned that getting on a plane could make me feel better, and that, regardless of how it had gone, I was the kind of girl who sometimes hung out alone in Paris.

models or Bond girls he had collected.

Most days, the writers’ room feels like I’m at the most entertaining dinner party in the world. Other times, it feels like I’m at the meanest, longest one. I keep both versions in perspective with my real life’s work—running away from home to someplace wonderful. And then, sometimes, having sex there.

My guidebook told me that the national anthem for Ukraine translated roughly to “We have not yet died!” That was the most victorious and optimistic version they could come up with. When Russians meet, their “Nice to meet you” literally translates to “How many years, how many winters?” Why couldn’t it at least be summers? It’s all very dramatic and dark in Russia.

One of my dad’s best pieces of parenting advice had been very simple: wait. He didn’t tell me to abstain from sex and drugs forever, which I’m sure would have made me try everything immediately. He just told me to take a beat, watch my friends try things out, learn what to do and what not to do based on their mistakes and triumphs, and then try out what I was going to try.

Second, that you can have both love and freedom when you fall in love with an exotic local in an exotic locale, since there is a return ticket next to the bed that you by law will eventually have to use.

She told me that since they date exclusively with the intent to marry, the conversation is very direct right from the start. You’re not sitting quietly next to each other at a movie wondering if you can get over his awful shirt. You’re interviewing. And from your first date, you’re focusing, apparently, on only three questions: Do we want the same things out of life? Do we bring out the best in each other? Do we find each other attractive? That’s it. In that order.

Start with the fact that all Jews are supposed to be spending their lives bettering themselves, becoming as Godly as humanly possible. And then on top of that, men have to please their wives sexually. It’s an order from the greatest sages. It’s also best, mitzvah-wise, if they please their wives before they are pleased themselves. You also can’t speak evil about your mate. You have to treat each other with kindness, and you must get down there and float your lady’s boat, and you can’t bad-mouth each other, even to your friends over a nice glass of pinot. God forbids it.

The deep feeling of oneness you have with someone when you’ve done all of the work on yourself you have to do to make a marriage work doesn’t take away your independence. It frees you to be the person you actually are. It wipes away all that nasty ego stuff, and lets your soul shine through.

The experience also illuminated another fact: regardless of how you travel, as you get deeper into your thirties you might be the only person your age out on the road at all, whether it's in the hostels with the twentysomethings, or on the fancy cruises with the sixtysomethings. In your fourth decade, your compatriots are mostly at home, working, raising humans, getting husbands through rehab, living for someone besides themselves.

Suckers.

The greatest thing about vacation romances is you don’t have to break up, or say hard things to each other about what you are or aren’t feeling. You don’t have to talk about what isn’t working, or why. You get to just tell yourselves that it would have lasted forever if not for the geography. You don’t have to break up. But

There are moments in one’s life that make one realize one could be making better choices.

They hadn’t had my experience of Argentina. It hadn’t saved them during their times of crisis the way it had saved me. But they hadn’t expected it to; only I had. I realized they didn’t look at travel the way I looked at it, like medicine, like my chance to right all of the wrongs that might exist in my life. They just had a few interesting days in South America, and went home not too disappointed, but not too changed, either.

To me, marriage was an ending, not a beginning. A stone on my chest. A giving-up, a decision to walk away from an interesting life for one just like everyone else’s. Much more “ever after” than “happily.

When you travel you’re forced to have new thoughts. “Is this alley safe?” “Is this the right bus?” “Was this meat ever a house pet?” It doesn’t even matter what the new thoughts are, it feels so good to just have some variety. And it’s a reboot for your brain. I can feel the neurons making new connections again with new problems to solve, clawing their way back to their nimbler, younger days.

When you travel, you're forced to have new thoughts. "Is this alley safe?" "Is this the right bus?" "Was this meat ever a house pet?" It doesn't even matter what the new thoughts are, it feels so good to just have some variety. And it's a reboot for your brain. I can feel the neurons making new connections again with new problems to solve, clawing their way back to their nimbler, younger days.