Christie Tate, B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found

Christie Tate, B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found

Zibby is joined by New York Times bestselling author and repeat MDHTTRB author Christie Tate to discuss her poignant and heartwarming memoir B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found. Christie shares the details of her troubled adolescence, which included eating disorders, low self-esteem, secrecy, alcoholism in her family, toxic relationships, and a lack of girlfriends. She also talks about her life-long fear of getting close to people, which is why making and keeping friends has always been a challenge. Thankfully, she met Meredith, a woman 20 years her senior who finally taught her how to be a friend (and became the inspiration for this memoir). Finally, Christie talks about what it was like for her other book Group (a Reese’s Book Club pick!) to be such a tremendous success.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Christie. Thanks for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” After Group, now you’re talking about B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found. Congratulations.

Christie Tate: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. It’s great to talk to you.

Zibby: You too. I always love your books because I get to know all these different sides and bits of you. After you do a few more of these, what’s there going to be left to know?

Christie: There’ll be nothing left. You will certainly know it all, yes.

Zibby: Why don’t you explain to listeners what B.F.F. is about?

Christie: I spent a lot of my adult life, actually, starting at age seventeen when I had my first relationship with a boy and I did the cliché thing of sort of dumping all my friends — my relationship with my very first boyfriend was pretty toxic. I kept that pattern up. I spent all my twenties and half of my thirties trying to get straight romantically. Once I settled down and I found the right person for me and was in a healthy relationship, all of a sudden, I looked around, and I realized I had a lot of work to do in friendship. I had a friend who’d tapped me on the shoulder once I settled down. She said, “Are you ready to do this work?” She was offering to be the buddy system. We were going to, together, learn how to be better friends and let go of this idea that we were the kind of girls who weren’t good to be friends with. We were going to turn that around. The book is the story of my friend Meredith and I excavating and rehabilitating ourselves as friends.

Zibby: I love that. You talked a lot in the beginning of this book about having a boyfriend who was just — you mentioned toxic. The boyfriend who you talk about a lot in the book had a drinking problem. You were by his side. You didn’t like it. It raised issues in you, but you couldn’t figure out a way out, essentially. You couldn’t alter his behavior. You couldn’t leave. Tell me more about that relationship and even how it affected your friendships.

Christie: This is my very first boyfriend ever. I was the kind of girl who — it was such basic low self-esteem and insecurity. The minute a boy liked me, of course, I loved him. I would do anything to keep the relationship. I was a dramatic, sensitive seventeen-year-old. Also, as a side note, I had a lot of secrets. I had an eating disorder. I had a lot of work to do that I wasn’t doing at seventeen. I hook up with this guy who’s a huge drinker and pot smoker. Our very first encounter — he called me after a dance, so this is eleven o’clock at night. He said, “Come over right now. If you don’t come, Sasha will come.” I was like, it’s love. It’s so terrible. I just would’ve done anything. I wanted the attention. I had such a hole in my soul that I thought a boy could fix. It really did take me until my early thirties to unwind from that. I grew up in an alcoholic home. I was really deeply touched by the disease of alcoholism. What that did was I just dove into the relationship. It took all my energy, every single bit. I was writing his papers and writing my own papers. By the time you’re doing someone’s homework and trying to get someone to stop drinking, you don’t have time to go to the mall or hang out with your friends and listen to records like I did before I had a boyfriend.

Zibby: You even say how each group of girlfriends you would make, you then quickly discarded. You had trouble, once you were really focused in on a new relationship, with maintaining even the girls you went to the parade with and the past girls in your life. What does that look like? Do you just stop emailing them? You’re just like, “I’m too busy”? Too distracted?

Christie: There were several mechanisms. One is I think I had this way of always telling myself I was different. I sort of had a mental template that I’m just — I would set myself apart. I didn’t understand that I was engineering that. I had this great group of friends in law school. You know how it is. You get put into a little study group. It’s super intense. It’s law school. They were wonderful. They were all partnered up, and I was not. I always held this idea. They’re better than me. I’m not good enough. I’m so different than them. It was really hard to get close to me because that way of thinking meant that I pushed them away. What it looked like is, they would say, “Christie, we’re all going to happy hour. Come with us.” I would say, “Yeah, maybe I’ll meet you there.” I wouldn’t show up. When they would go out and do things, I would come for a little while, but then I would leave without saying goodbye. They’d be like, “Where did you go?” I just did not have very good skills. I could’ve said, “Hey guys, I’m leaving. Happy hour’s not my jam. I’ll see you at school on Monday.” I just couldn’t be honest. I was not able to be intimate because I was so ashamed that I didn’t drink. I was uncomfortable around drinking at the time. I had all these secrets and barriers, both mental and physical, that it was hard to get close to me. Then the minute something awkward happened, I would just slowly emotionally back away. It would be drifting. It wasn’t always violent dustups. It would just be like, I kind of drifted and didn’t let myself fully attach or let anyone attach to me. I got to be in my mid-thirties, and this was still happening to me.

Zibby: Tell, if you don’t mind — not to just jump right in here after we’re talking for five minutes. Tell me about the most traumatic parts of your life. Could you talk about your eating disorder a little bit more for people who don’t maybe have the background or know how that affected you on a deeper level? which you write about throughout your work.

Christie: The hallmark of my eating disorder was secrecy. That’s the most salient and toxic feature of it. I remember second grade, stealing food. I’m a real good girl. That’s sort of my thing. The one time I got in trouble at school was because I stole some graham crackers. Somebody saw me. I got busted. That’s how big my eating disorder was, starting really little. I was a secret eater, binging. Then I added purging to the mix by the time I was in high school. That’s a huge secret. If you’re carrying a huge secret — I didn’t want anyone to know. I was super weird around food. I wouldn’t eat. We’d go out. I’ll just have a salad. I was a bigger girl. It must have seemed obvious to everyone. I was definitely eating more than a salad, but I did it all in secret. Once you have those kind of secrets, it’s very hard to really let people see you. As a practical matter, I couldn’t eat around anyone. It was all secretive.

When I got to college and the bulimia was picking up the pace, I was scared. One time, I fainted in the shower while I was in the middle of binging and purging. I thought, oh, my god, I could die like this. I’m like Karen Carpenter. I’m going to die. I got myself into a twelve-step recovery program, which certainly helped me arrest my eating. I’m very, very grateful for it. Eating disorders are really, really, really tricky. Half the time, even if my eating was under control, I deeply hated my body and suffer from body dysmorphia, which is another way to just be different. There’s something wrong with me. My body’s gross. I thought my friends were all super beautiful. They knew there was something going on with me. They would try to pump me up, but what was going on in me was so much deeper than your girlfriend saying, “You look beautiful. I love your body.” That wasn’t going to touch what was going on inside of me.

Zibby: Wow. It’s so funny — not funny. Not like I know you so well having read two books and gone to media events and seen you at parties and done two podcasts and whatever. From the book, you would think that you were not so easy to like. You’re so likeable.

Christie: That’s so nice.

Zibby: You seem like you would be everybody’s good friend. You’re introspective and have a great writing voice. You’re funny. Yet you’re struggling with friendship. It’s actually almost even better to use you as an example to be like, it may seem like it would be super easy for me, but it isn’t.

Christie: That’s wonderful feedback. Thank you. I think that it really highlights my internal processes. At the end of the day, I’m really scared of people. I’m scared. I don’t know why. Nothing so traumatic happened. Lots of women had eating disorders. They’re not writing books about how they couldn’t make friends. When people get close to me, I panic. It’s the thing I desperately want the most. The real impediment — it’s not my body. It’s not my boyfriends. It’s not my status. What it is is these internal ways of thinking and being and interacting. If I wanted to have close friendships, which I longed for, I was going to have to peel that back and look at it. I did it with a buddy. In Group, if anybody’s read it, that’s all about, I had a whacky therapist. He went to the Ivy Leagues. It was very hierarchal. I had to pay a lot of money for it. The work I did around friendship, I did it with a buddy. We made it up as we went along. We both seemed to get better. Therapy’s great. I still go. I love it. Also, there’s things you can do outside of your insurance plan and office that you and a buddy could do. I really want people to know that that kind of healing is also available.

Zibby: Your relationship with Meredith from the beginning — I loved when she gave you the set of scarves with all the holidays. That was so sweet, oh, my gosh. I’m like, what a nice lady. You described her so well, as this almost plucked from the 1980s, power suit-type-wearing woman, who I could just so visualize when you wrote about how you met her and then how you weren’t even, necessarily, so close at the beginning. Then over time, things changed. You ended up becoming hugely, hugely important to each other. Talk about the meaning of that friendship. That’s your whole book, but something about it. Why write a whole book about it? It’s one thing to appreciate somebody, but why a book?

Christie: That’s a great question. When I think about Meredith, I always zoom back to when we met. Just like you said, she was totally — I thought she was a metrologist. She had this gold pin on her lapel. She had these little pumps on. I hadn’t even gone to law school yet. I was working as a secretary and trying to get my boyfriend — this was three boyfriends later. Still dating drunks. I was trying to get him sober. I met her. I didn’t see her as a friend because she was twenty years older, which now I’m all for. I understand friendship comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages. At the time, I had such narrow, immature thinking. I almost had the thinking when I met her — I was twenty-three. She was forty-three. Now that doesn’t seem like anything to me. At the time, I was like, we’re not in the same grade. I just was like, I’m supposed to meet friends who are like me. As we became friends, I realized how, by limiting my definition of who could be a friend and what a friend looked like, I had missed a lot of opportunities, of course, along the way. In terms of writing a book about her, I knew I was going to write about friendship. I didn’t know if it was going to become a book, but I knew I wanted to write about it. My initial book was so bad, Zibby. It was called The Jealousy Journal. It was just me and all the people I was jealous of. I really, really deeply struggle — I could fill a book. I could do two hundred pages.

Zibby: That’s funny. I like that.

Christie: I thought it was going to be funky and experimental and super revealing. It ended up being a list of people I was really either envious or jealous of. Guess what? Nobody wants that book. My agent and I went back to the drawing board. She had known about my friend Meredith. She said, “Why don’t you start at her –” The book opens, and I’m at her memorial service. I’m eulogizing her. I guess that’s a spoiler alert, except it’s in the first four pages. You know that she has passed on. As soon as my agent and I started having this conversation, I realized she is essentially the spine of the story. She’s the one who tapped me on the shoulder. She is the inciting incident. I love that. Once my agent suggested that, I sat on it for three months because I thought, well, that was my agent’s idea. I didn’t come up with it. It doesn’t count. I was really like, I guess I should’ve thought of that. Then my agent was like, “Where are these scenes? Where is your book?” I was like, I guess I’ll try. I had to back into it. I think I had shame about backing into it. I thought books were supposed to drop into you, and then you write them. I didn’t have that experience. It took me a while to really attach to this book and let it become deeper in me and deeper on the page.

Zibby: Interesting. What are some of the other books in the idea file that you have percolating right now?

Christie: Here’s another book that nobody wants that I’m writing. Listen to this elevator pitch. I want to write a book about what it’s like to be living in a — I have teenage children. They’re almost teenagers. Their bodies are blossoming. They’re becoming. My body is shutting down, if you know what I’m saying. Then I’ve got parents who are winding down in this very profound way. I have moments where I’m like, whose body matters? Ultimately, I think I’m talking the sandwich generation stuff and menopause. I don’t know who wants this book, but I’m very interested.

Zibby: I’m raising my hand. I want this book.

Christie: There are moments where I’m literally trying to take care of my daughter and my son, who are having their teenage hormone — all the things that happen for them in their bodies. My dad’s had some neurological challenges. They’re in their eighties. Then there’s my body. It’s last on the list. I know your life. You probably have this exact same thing. I’m like, when does my body — I’m not even talking about my needs. I’m talking about my physical body. When does my body matter? When should it matter? I don’t know the answer to that. It’s going to be a best-seller, Zibby.

Zibby: I cannot wait to read that. I know you’re joking about it, but that is exactly what I want to read right now. That is exactly where I am. I have teenage kids. I have the same stuff, so I personally would love to read that book. Write it.

Christie: Thank you. I’m working on it. I think there’s a lot of us. I think there’s a lot of us in this situation. I just kind of want to give voice to it.

Zibby: I haven’t even gone to the dentist. It’s embarrassing in how long. My girlfriends had to literally — after the pandemic, I didn’t go to the doctor for — finally, they were like, “You have to go get a checkup.” I’m like, “I’m fine.” It turns out I was fine, but you just don’t know. I waited so long. Then you hear all the horror stories.

Christie: I’m sure you took your kids that whole time. I’m sure your kids were all up to date.

Zibby: Totally. I was holding them up. I put a scale on Zoom and weighed them, the little guys, for the pediatrician during the pandemic because I wouldn’t miss a thing. For me, forget it. Yes, and the parents too. Anyway, I think that’s great. What do you feel like somebody needs to know about your friendship with Meredith that is the thing that you can’t let go of? Is it the fact that she was older? Is it the fact that she was an unlikely friend? Is it how much she ended up helping you with your other relationships? What do you think it really is?

Christie: That’s such a good question. I think what it is with Meredith, she’s my only friend I’ve — I have been very blessed. I have not had other friends who have died. She is my first. What I realized in the work that we did together is during transitions is where I’m most likely to drop off. We all graduated. Bye. I’ll see you never. I had an email address. I didn’t know how to stay connected to college friends or graduate school friends or law school friends. I would just, out of sight, out of mind. I didn’t know how to do that. Meredith is as out of sight and out of mind as any friend I’ve ever had, and I still feel extremely connected to her. I feel the reverberations of her in my life every single day. You asked earlier, why write a book about it? I get to talk about her every single day when I talk about B.F.F. At some point, people are going to stop talking to me about B.F.F. That’s fine too. She lives now out in the world. She’s now a gift to other people. This is the final blow to that false narrative I carried about myself, that I can’t hold on through transition, because I’m still holding her quite tightly, and she’s quite gone. That’s the part that really — it still inspires me about the story and still feels so alive to me, which I did not know. When she got sick and we knew it was going to be the end, I didn’t know she would still be — now it’s been three and a half years. I didn’t know we would still be so — it sounds crazy. I still feel very close to her. I treasure that the most.

Zibby: I don’t think that sounds crazy at all. I lost a girlfriend. How many years ago? Twenty-three years ago. I still talk about her all the time. Essentially, writing about loss and people we love, it’s like time travel or ghost wizardry. I don’t know. You’re conjuring. You’re conjuring the spirit, in a way.

Christie: I imagine you had that with Bookends when you — Stacey, right?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it. Yes, thank you.

Christie: I felt the kinship when I read that this summer. I thought, oh, Zibby knows this keeping alive. Once you put them in a book, now Stacey and Zibby’s friendship belongs to the world. It’s a totally extraordinary thing.

Zibby: Maybe Stacey and Meredith are hanging.

Christie: I love that. That’s a great idea.

Zibby: They’re hanging. They’re listening to our podcast. They’re like, oh, nice to meet you. I wouldn’t have met you otherwise.

Christie: Exactly. Look at those girls down there. They’re doing awesome.

Zibby: I love it. What was it like having Group become such a huge hit?

Christie: Oh, my gosh, I think I had a ton of denial. I couldn’t look at it straight on. I think part of that was the pandemic. I would get emails. These things are happening. Obviously, I knew. They called me. They said, “Reese is going to put her sticker.” I screamed. I screamed for hours, it seems like. I still think to myself, wow, I can’t believe that happened to me. It was all good. Literally, it was all good. I still get emails from people about their relationships with their therapist or looking for a therapist or other parts of the book too. I have an eating disorder. I’m in law school. I love those letters. I always respond. At least, I think I do. I did not know that I would be so connected to readers. I did not know that readers sent emails to authors. I’ve never done that. I’m a huge reader. I didn’t know you could do that. That was so moving and so touching to me. It was amazing.

There’s not a downside to any of this, but when it was time to settle down and get back in my body and work on the next thing, it was super hard. I was like, I’m never going to be able to top that. I can’t top that. I had to let go of the idea that I had to top it or I was supposed to and just get very still and very quiet in my own heart and mind and see if there was anything I wanted to say and then get to work. I had to shut all of that out and get to work. I was telling everyone, I love this green baby even though Reese’s sticker isn’t on it. B.F.F., the book cover is green. I get to love that baby even though she may not go to all the same places that Group went. Just make peace with all of that. There was a whole process around that. I’m glad I did it. There’s room in my heart for both experiences. It’s totally different. It’s extraordinary to have a base like Group to jump off from. That’s just extraordinary.

Zibby: It is extraordinary. They’re both wonderful, really wonderful.

Christie: Thank you.

Zibby: There are so many different parts. There are so many different parts of all of us that if we were to just slice them all and see how many people relate to this and how many relate to that and what’s unique, it’s like you’re in the kitchen figuring out which way to slice it.

Christie: Yes, exactly. That’s a great way to put it.

Zibby: What is your advice, especially on the heels of success, getting back into it? Does it feel as overwhelming as when you were trying to do it in the first place? How do you do the work? You said you were forcing yourself into it and sitting down.

Christie: For me — this won’t surprise anybody who knows me or any of my work. I really relied on the groups that I’m in, my writing groups. I’m in three or four writing groups now. I leaned on them. I don’t think I can do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. They would say, “Why don’t you write one scene? What about one scene? Send it to us.” I had to break things down into really tiny chunks, which is probably what I did — I think I just don’t remember. I started Group in 2015. Beyond the craft, I had to learn the skill of, you write a book scene by scene. You don’t sit down and write a book. You sit down, and you write a scene. Sometimes I would sit down, and I’d write a sentence, a topic sentence, if you will. The advice is get it down to manageable chunks. Have people around you. It doesn’t have to be a writing group. Just have people around you who are patting your head, bringing you a snack, metaphorically or actually. Surround yourself with people who believe in you who are also doing the work. Being around other people who were working on their books and saying hard things — no one knows how their work is going to be received. Being surrounded by other people who are engaging in that vulnerability was really helpful to me.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so great. Just write a sentence. Just write a topic sentence. That’s so great. Thank you.

Christie: Write a noun. Write one noun.

Zibby: Write a noun. Go into the document, and write a noun. That’s awesome.

Christie: That’s your work for the day.

Zibby: Amazing. I think I can do that today. Maybe. Are you reading anything amazing?

Christie: Oh, my gosh, yes. I’m finally reading Daisy Jones and The Six. I’ve never read Taylor Jenkins Reid. My daughter’s just tearing through all those books. She’s not really a reader. I’m like, I want to see what this is all about. It’s so much fun. I was reading Empire of Pain about the Sacklers. Then I went on book tour. I could not do anything heavy. Daisy Jones and The Six has been the perfect joyful distraction and just a fun read. I think I always put pressure on myself to read big, important books that say things about society. Sometimes you just want to read about a rock-and-roll love story that is a total delight. That’s getting me through the night.

Zibby: I love that. The show’s coming out.

Christie: Yes. I was trying to finish before the show came out. I have a deadline.

Zibby: I like reading on deadline too. It’s become my whole life.

Christie: Yeah, I guess so. I hope you do.

Zibby: Forcing pleasure into deadlines. Then I know it gets done.

Christie: My therapist says that instead of calling them deadlines, he’s like, “What if you called it a lifeline?”

Zibby: Oh, my gosh.

Christie: A little bit transformative, right?

Zibby: So good. It’s really good. You should write an essay about that.

Christie: I know. I should because it’s really helped me remember what I’m doing this for. I was a full-time lawyer two and a half years ago. Wah, wah, I have to read a book by a deadline. No, that’s your lifeline to the life that you — you created this life. That’s your lifeline. That’s actually been one of the best things he’s ever said to me, and he’s said a lot of things to me.

Zibby: That’s a really good one. Write it for Zibby Mag. We’ll publish it.

Christie: Great. I’ll give that a shot.

Zibby: I love that. Ultimately, we create all of our own deadlines anyway. We pick the things we’re doing. This has been really helpful for me personally. Thank you for that.

Christie: Me too. You know what? I’m going to get off this call, and I’m going to go make a dentist appointment. I am not kidding you.

Zibby: I’m going to go write a noun.

Christie: Good. Look at us. We’re going to get our work done.

Zibby: Thanks, Christie.

Christie: Thanks, Zibby. Goodbye.

Zibby: You too. Bye.

Christie Tate, B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found

B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found by Christie Tate

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