Carrie Berk, MY REAL-LIFE ROM-COM: How to Build Confidence and Write Your Own Relationship Rules

Carrie Berk, MY REAL-LIFE ROM-COM: How to Build Confidence and Write Your Own Relationship Rules

Zibby welcomes Carrie Berk to discuss her book, MY REAL-LIFE ROM COM: HOW TO BUILD CONFIDENCE AND WRITE YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP RULES. Carrie shares the book’s inception during the pandemic, aiming to provide relatable dating advice for her generation, unlike the outdated guidance from older publications. She highlights the importance of self-love, learned through her anxiety journey, as a foundation for meaningful relationships. Carrie also delves into the challenges of dating as a social media influencer, advocating for authenticity over fame. With a candid reflection on her writing journey since childhood and the role of journalism in her life, Carrie encourages aspiring writers to pursue genuine stories that resonate with them. Amid humor and insightful discussions, this episode explores the evolving narrative of love, self-discovery, and the essence of meaningful storytelling in the digital age.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Carrie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your first solo book, but eight millionth book in general, My Real-Life Rom-Com: How to Build Confidence and Write Your Own Relationship Rules.

Carrie Berk: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. This is so great. You probably don’t remember because you’re way too young, but there used to be this book called The Rules about dating, which, when I was in my twenties, I clung to like the talisman for finally ending up in a relationship. This is so great because you’re giving advice to a younger set who doesn’t get this advice from a lot of places. Tell me about writing the book and your goals for it and all of that.

Carrie: I came up with this idea, it actually kind of started as a self-therapy of sorts for me during the pandemic because I was, obviously, locked up, lonely. I was worried about losing all of my memories and the lessons related to those memories, especially those in love and dating. I just started writing down everything I could remember. It was a series of essays. I sent it to a friend one day. She said, “This can be something so much greater. You can help a lot of people and help them navigate this world of dating.” All those books out there teaching Gen Z, teenagers, tweens how to date, they’re written by fifty-year-old women, basically. There’s nothing written by a teenager for teenagers helping them through this weird, crazy time in their life. I wanted to fill that void. It’s different from The Rules in that I’m not really giving the rules for dating. I’m not telling people, here’s how you should date. Here’s who you should date. I’m dedicating each chapter to a different guy, a different experience so that teens and tweens can read it and take what they will and pick up some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, but also, it’s not me telling them what to do, if that makes sense.

Zibby: I didn’t mean to mislead. It’s not didactic in any way, but you do give advice, which we all need. Some of these things I hadn’t thought about since I was really young, even how to cope with your — well, coping with the first breakup, that’s any age. Some of these, what to keep in mind for your first hook-up — the curse of the blue check was actually super interesting. You write about what it’s like for you dating as a verified Instagrammer with a huge business and following at such a young age and how you have to be careful who you date and why they’re dating you. Do they want access to famous friends? Do they want you for you? That’s a very specific but really interesting issue that you raised. I was wondering if you could even talk about that and how you’ve been navigating that.

Carrie: Oh, it’s really difficult. I had this back-and-forth for so many years. Should I date an influencer because I’m an influencer? They’ll get it more. Should I just date a normal guy, basically? I felt like, influencers, it was more fun. You could film videos with them. They really got the whole influencer world. A lot of times, influencer guys are only in it for themselves. They’re in it for the content and the clout. That’s been really hard for me because I’m someone who loves hard and loves fast. I’ll go into it, and I’ll think it’s going to turn into something. The next thing I know, it’s just them using me for a viral video. That’s been really hard to navigate. Ultimately, I decided, influencer dating, not for me. The reason why I had some trouble with dating with normal guys is because a lot of guys don’t know how to handle a successful young woman. If they click on my profile and they see a million, four million followers, they kind of don’t know how to handle it. What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to fangirl over her? What’s supposed to happen? One of the instances I talk about in my book was when I was on a date with a guy from my college, and he asked me for a famous TikToker’s phone number on our date. Stuff like that was really common for me, believe it or not.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I’m sorry. These are the downsides of fame.

Carrie: It’s really a whole new world. I think I just closed myself off to influencer dating. I was only focused on influencer dating for so long until I realized that wasn’t for me. Then when I joined the dating apps when I was eighteen, it was just a whole new world. How am I supposed to talk to a banker or a lawyer? It’s just so different, a culture shock, but it’s good. You’re supposed to be different from one another. That’s how you learn and develop a more emotionally rich relationship, when you can teach each other things.

Zibby: Plus, now the guys have to deal with the fact that you wrote a whole book about all your other experiences.

Carrie: Oh, my god, yeah. Actually, I have a boyfriend now, so .

Zibby: I know. I saw your Instagram and everything.

Carrie: He literally read the book, and after he read the book, I was so nervous. I had no idea how he was going to react. He was a freaking champ. So good at reading it.

Zibby: I don’t feel like there was anything too embarrassing in the book. You’re open about it. Of course, you’re the only person I know who starts hooking up at age four or five, but that’s fine.

Carrie: It was just a little kiss.

Zibby: It was just a little kiss, but a sloppy one. It’s really generous of you to take the tips and put them in book form. Not only is it about your relationships, but I found the pieces about anxiety and OCD to be incredibly fascinating, and how you’ve come to terms with all of that. Can you talk a little bit about that and when you realized what was happening and how you’re handling everything?

Carrie: Yes. I was writing the book in the middle of the pandemic. At the same time, I was going through my own journey with anxiety for the first time. Didn’t really know what was happening. I talk about it in depth in the book. I was going through all these physical and mental compulsions all the time. I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I was scared to write about it for a while. Usually, my way of coping with emotions is I write it all down. When it came to anxiety and OCD, I didn’t know what to write because I felt like I wasn’t educated on the topic. I was scared to write. I didn’t want to do it a disservice. About six months in, I came to this conclusion that you don’t know all the answers. Nobody really knows all the answers when it comes to anxiety and OCD. I think that’s a message that teens and tweens really need to hear. I wrote about it in that way. I wrote about what it was like in that moment when I was experiencing anxiety for the first time and the confusion surrounding that and how it’s still a work in progress.

It’s not black and white. It’s not like one day, you just entirely get better. It never really gets better. You just figure out a way to handle it. You develop greater tools. That was something really important that I wanted to talk about in general. When I was deciding to write the last chapter to my book — I had a personal essay aside about my anxiety just for myself to cope with my emotions that I wrote six months after I started experiencing it. I just took it, and I stuck it at the end of the book. I copied and pasted it. I looked at the end of the essay, and I realized so many of these lessons I learned from anxiety and OCD, like the fact that life isn’t perfect, and neither are relationships, the fact that I’m ruminating over certain aspects of my life — I shouldn’t ruminate on romance like that. I should live in the moment a little bit more. So many of these lessons that I learned can apply to relationships. After I copied and pasted that essay, I just kept writing. It naturally flowed and continued. It just turned into this whole self-love, basically, book anthem that people can read. That’s how the end of the book was formed. It really tied everything together.

Zibby: For sure. You have — let me see if I dogeared it. Here, this is the life lesson takeaway page. Can I just read a little bit?

Carrie: Yeah, go for it.

Zibby: You say, “You may be wondering why I’m choosing to end this book by talking about myself, not boys. It may sound corny, but loving others is not possible unless you love yourself. All those months in quarantine, I prayed that the sixteen-year-old hopeless romantic was still inside me, but that sixteen-year-old is in the past. That sixteen-year-old depended on a boy to make her feel special, when in reality, the ability was inside her all along. Self-love is essential. It means something different to everyone, but to me, it ties in closely with my anxiety journey. Self-love means practicing patience and empathy with myself. It means believing in my inner strength yet showing myself grace if I need to let out a good cry. Most importantly, it means embracing my flaws with my whole heart instead of with hatred.” These are really good life lessons at any age. The fact that you picked all this up so early, you’re going to be just flying by your forties.

Carrie: Thank you. Over this past year, especially with the anxiety journey, I’ve learned so much about myself. I have such a strong sense of self. It’s no coincidence I met my boyfriend a month after I turned in my final manuscript to my book. I tell him that all the time. Basically, I really found myself over this past year. As I’m navigating my new relationship, I have a really strong sense of self. I’m not afraid to talk about my anxiety. That’s something that I really hid in the past from everyone in my life. Now I’m so open about it because I realized that there’s this responsibility to be a role model for people. If no one else is talking about it, I’m going to fill that space. If I had someone like this when I was going through it for the first time, then it would’ve helped me so much. It wouldn’t have taken me six months to come to this conclusion. I really needed someone to help me through that. There was nobody my age that was talking about anxiety in such an open, raw, vulnerable way. I’m trying to fill that void.

Zibby: I don’t know if you know about the Child Mind Institute, but I’m actually on the board. We do this whole thing, #MyYoungerSelf campaign, in May or some month. I should loop you in because you would be such a great advocate for helping all the kids who come through the system and all of that.

Carrie: Yeah, that’s amazing.

Zibby: If you’re interested, but off topic. Tell me about writing all the other books with your mom and getting started early. You’ve written two full-on book series already.

Carrie: Three.

Zibby: Three, sorry. Three. You have the Cupcake ones. Tell me all about it. There are so many.

Carrie: When I was eight, I was obsessed with writing. I loved writing in second grade. My mom is a ghostwriter, so I grew up watching her type away at her computer every day just in awe. One day, I came home from school, and I had learned about realistic fiction. The fact that I could take real-life themes and place them inside fictional scenarios just fascinated me. I wrote this idea about four girls who are kind of outsiders at their school. They’re all bullied. They come together, and they form this cupcake club that really practices inclusion and unity and the power of friendship and all these important themes for kids that I didn’t see as much in the books that I was reading. I showed it to my mom. She thought it was cute. I was an eight-year-old girl writing. I begged her to submit it to her book agent. She’s like, “Okay.” She submits it to her book agent. We were in the middle of the ocean on a Disney cruise. She gets a call in the middle of the ocean. It costs a lot of money, obviously, to call in the middle of the ocean. She picks up the phone. She’s like, “This better be good.” It was three different publishers wanting to do the book. I was just an eight-year-old girl who loved writing. I didn’t really understand what was happening in my life.

It just turned into this crazy phenomenon. The first book sold over 350,000 copies worldwide. I was eight years old. I did not understand. I was getting press for the first time. I was just a cute little girl with braces. I didn’t know what was happening to my life. That turned into a twelve-book series pretty quickly, turned into an off-Broadway show that I got to star in eventually. It all started with cupcakes, a little girl with braces who loved cupcakes. Then I was around fourteen when I came out with Fashion Academy, which was inspired by — I loved Project Runway. I was inspired by Project Runway. Then Ask Emma was the most recent children book series. That’s inspired by — I was a blogger at the time. I had a fashion blog. Emma was also a blogger. She gets cyberbullied. That’s something that I was going through at the time. It was always important to me to take these real-life themes that are either taboo or things that aren’t talked about as much and place them on paper to try and help people and try and normalize these things. That’s still what I’m trying to through my books. I just wanted to be a little bit more vulnerable because the best writing is true writing. I really just wanted to write what I know, which is my own life and adulting and all of the stuff that I’m going through right now in this crazy time in my life.

Zibby: Now also, you’re working for the New York Post, or you worked there for the summer? What’s going on with that?

Carrie: It was a summer internship. I wish I could’ve extended, but I do have to finish college. It’s crazy. I’m in my senior year of college right now. This month especially, I feel like I’m doing a juggling act. This week is Fashion Week. I have the book coming out. I have a three-hour college class right after this interview.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. How are you doing all this? How are you getting through and maintaining any level of sanity and being down to earth and all of that? How do you do that?

Carrie: Ironically, by squeezing in a workout into my day, so by adding something more. It makes me feel better. Fitness is a huge part of my life too. You see the Peloton sitting in the background. I can’t survive without my Peloton. I write about it a bunch in the book too. There’s little hints of Peloton. I always say Peloton saved my life. I really could not have gotten through the pandemic without it. I think my Peloton is how I keep my sanity. I wish they could sponsor me.

Zibby: They sponsored me. I’m sure they would sponsor you.

Carrie: I’ve been trying for three years.

Zibby: What? They sponsored this podcast a few times.

Carrie: Oh, my god, I love Peloton. It’s my dream sponsorship.

Zibby: I’m sure you could make that happen. I can’t believe you can’t make that happen. I have no doubt you will figure this out.

Carrie: The amount of free promo I give them, I just don’t even care. I write about them. I post on my Story every single day.

Zibby: I think you better get your people on this. You must have people. Get those people on it.

Carrie: I tried.

Zibby: You’ve already accomplished things that a lot of people in the world could never dream of accomplishing and that many people set as goals, write a book, write a children’s book, write a book series, become famous, become this, all these things. You’re just graduating college. What are you thinking for your life now? What is providing meaning? What do you want to do next, really, on a deep — what job? What do you want out of life?

Carrie: That question is what drives me every day. What really brings me meaning? What brings me the most joy in life? I think as a teenager, and in a lot of these chapters in the book, I was a little bit lost. I was doing a lot of different things, but I didn’t really focus on what was bringing me the most joy. It changes over time. A few years ago, I loved social media. I still like it, but it’s not where my heart is, at least not anymore. I’ll keep it in my toolbox, but I don’t want to be a full-time influencer. It’s not sustainable. TikTok can go away at any moment. I’ve just always remained grounded when it comes to that. I’ll keep that on the side. Where my heart really is and it keeps coming back to is writing, journalism. I’m studying journalism in college. I’d love to work for a publication, a newspaper. A place like the New York Post would be amazing. I just love telling meaningful stories. Whatever I write about has to have some sense of meaning.

The other day, I was doing a reporting job at my school. They said to me, “What you’re going to do for this interview is it’s just what teens call a vibe check. You’re going to ask these people you’re interviewing, how are you feeling about this today? What’s the excitement like here?” It’s just basic questions. I walked out of it, and I just felt so useless as a writer and a reporter. I was like, this is not the type of thing I want to be doing. I don’t want to just be a vibe check writer for a living. I want to write things that matter. I got out of that situation. I was so frustrated because I realized I don’t — I loved writing a book. I think if I wrote another book, my boyfriend would murder me. I think journalism is where I want to be at. There’s so many important things going on in the world that I would love to talk about and bring more attention to.

Zibby: That’s great. Good for you. So awesome.

Carrie: Thank you. Another life, a Peloton instructor.

Zibby: A Peloton instructor.

Carrie: In another life.

Zibby: You run marathons too, right? You’re a total athlete. Maybe you should do that on the side.

Carrie: I wish. I always say if the writing thing doesn’t work out, maybe in ten years, I’ll hit up Peloton and send them my essay and be like, I’d love to be a Peloton instructor.

Zibby: It’s great to keep that kind of balance and get the physical out. They do say that working out is so helpful for anxiety. I keep ignoring all the advice and not managing my own anxiety and not exercising. I’m like, I do always feel better, and yet I still don’t do it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Carrie: It helps. It really does help.

Zibby: How do you feel about being so in the public eye and putting so much of your life out there and then having the piece of yourself that you protect? Do you feel like you’ve been able to carve that out? Writing a memoir, being on social from such a young age, and all this stuff, do you feel like you have a safe space, if you will?

Carrie: I think I’ve gotten better at it. When I first blew up on TikTok over the pandemic, that line wasn’t as clear because it was just all about the followers and the fame and people recognizing me on the street. It was all so exciting. That was my entire life. That was all I focused on. I actually think back to a particular moment when I was experiencing anxiety for the first time. I had a friend come over to the Hamptons. We got in a huge fight because she said I was ignoring her and I wasn’t living in the moment. On one note, I feel like I was in the right because I was super anxious, and I was doing things that made me happy at the time, which was social media and Peloton and just directing my attention toward something I was passionate about in order to feel better. Now being more mature and having gone through anxiety a little bit more, I understand. I think there’s such value in living in the moment. I used to make fun of her because she wanted to go outside and build a snowman with me and take in the snow. All I wanted to do was take a Boomerang of the snow falling down. Now I put my phone away, and I take in what’s going on around me. I live in the moment. I yell at my mom sometimes when we’re at — I took her, the other day, to an afternoon tea. She was taking pictures and on her phone. I told her a million times, “Get off your phone. Take this in.” Life is so beautiful. Yes, it’s fun to chronicle everything that’s going on in your life on your phone, but do that for a second, and then get off your phone and take everything in. That realization is something that’s really grounded me. It feels like I’m not as connected to the public eye when I’m off my phone. That balanced with going out on a run and not caring if I’m recognized and stuff, stuff like that.

Zibby: I love it. On Instagram — I was checking it out with my daughter. I was like, oh, I love that dress. I love that dress. That is so cute. I was like, “Where is it from? Why does she not say where it’s from? Isn’t that what she’s –” She’s like, “No, you don’t do that anymore.” I’m like, what? Why are we not saying where the dresses are from? Now I want to go get that blue dress you were wearing, and I don’t know where it’s from.

Carrie: Your daughter’s on the money. I did that a lot back in the day when I was in my fashion blogger era. I just feel like now it comes off as inauthentic. If you’re tagging all your clothes, it just looks like an ad. Let’s say I do a photo carousel with a bunch of different photos in the same outfit. On the last slide, I might tag my outfit. I think people will take you more seriously or look up to you the more genuine you are. I think it’s much more authentic. That’s the only thing I can say. I don’t really request clothes anymore, or not as often. I just wear what makes me feel good. Maybe if I’m going to Fashion Week, I’m going to be tagging my outfits because it’s Fashion Week. People want to know what I’m wearing. That’s fine. If I’m posting a photo with a friend in a T-shirt and shorts, I’m not going to tag my pair of denim shorts just because I want another free pair of denim shorts. That’s not the thing anymore to do.

Zibby: Okay, great. My son tells me that you’re only supposed to have six photos on your Instagram now. Have you heard of this trend?

Carrie: I think that’s for younger. How old is your son?

Zibby: Sixteen. They’re twins.

Carrie: Got it.

Zibby: He’s like, “Now you’re not supposed to have a whole backlog of photos. You just have to have six.”

Carrie: Maybe I should go delete some photos.

Zibby: I don’t know. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Carrie: Advice I have for aspiring authors, I said this earlier, write what you know. If you write something that doesn’t resonate with you or you’re trying to be a writer or a type of writer that you’re not, it’s not going to turn out well. I said the best writing is true writing. Once you start writing about something that you really love, whether it’s your own life or something you’re passionate about, that’s when you’re going to turn out the best quality writing.

Zibby: I love it. Carrie, excited for the store. Thank you for doing an event. So awesome. Congratulations on My Real-Life Rom-Com. I’m glad there is a — not that it’s a happy ending that you end up with someone because that’s not the important thing. The important thing is you realized you only need yourself and that everything is sort of gravy afterwards, right?

Carrie: There you go.

Zibby: But still, it’s really fun to watch. It’s just fun to watch and see what happens.

Carrie: Has your teenager read it yet?

Zibby: Yeah, my daughter.

Carrie: She read it?

Zibby: Yeah. She didn’t finish it, but she is fifty-five pages in. She was loving it.

Carrie: I’ve got to say, it wasn’t supposed to be like this at first, but I’ve realized it’s such a fun gift for moms to give their daughters.

Zibby: Yes, a hundred percent.

Carrie: With the holidays coming up, Halloween, there’s so many exciting things. Back to school, hello. This is a fun coming-of-age read that I really think moms could gift their daughters. It’s a great conversation starter, too, that doesn’t make sex, relationships as taboo in a mother-daughter relationship. I’m really happy it’s turned into something that’s — this isn’t the type of the book you have to keep a secret from your mom, which I love.

Zibby: No, of course not. You got to get it on the bat mitzvah circuit, bat mitzvah gifts.

Carrie: There’s a bat mitzvah chapter in the book.

Zibby: I know. That’s what I’m saying. You go in your b’nai mitzvah and everything. Thanks so much, Carrie. Congratulations.

Carrie: Thank you.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Carrie: Bye.

MY REAL-LIFE ROM-COM: How to Build Confidence and Write Your Own Relationship Rules by Carrie Berk

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