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Artist Profile: Christie Tate on The Necessity of Female Friendships

"B.F.F." by Christie Tate
"B.F.F." by Christie Tate By Courtesty of Williams Literary
By Sarah M. Rojas, Crimson Staff Writer

Across thousands of independent bookstores in America, readers can almost certainly find a romance section, toppling with literature that reinforces the tropes of romantic relationships. But what about all of the other intricate and essential relationships in life? Author and essayist Christie Tate argues that every bookstore should have a friendship section — a place to bring powerful, non-romantic friendships to the forefront of readers’ minds.

Tate’s writing is especially memorable because of her unapologetic honesty about her life. In the writing world, Tate may be best known for her 2020 publication of her memoir, “Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life.” Awarded as a New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, “Group” intimately detailed Tate’s experience with group therapy, breaking down the stigma of openly writing about mental health and treatment.

Her newest memoir, “B.F.F.: A Memoir of Friendship Lost and Found,” exhibits this same unconditional honesty, but it works to break down a different barrier present in the literary space. In a world congested with literature covering romantic relationships, Tate lays the blueprint for a new genre of friendship writing. While “B.F.F.” mainly focuses on Tate’s relationships with her late friend, Meredith, Tate also weaves together her countless other friendships, from those created on elementary school playgrounds to newer relationships from her adult life.

Much like her first memoir, Tate is unafraid to write about difficult moments in her life. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Tate reflected on her specific process for choosing which friendships she wanted to include in the book.

“I think I chose the ones that were the most dramatic and the most heartbreaking,” said Tate. “I thought about people who, if I saw them on the sidewalk and I ran into them, how would I react? And the ones where I wanted to hide behind a brick wall — those are the ones that I should write about.”

By including her more difficult and broken friendships in this memoir, Tate specifically challenges the term “B.F.F.” The notion of “Best Friend Forever” remains such a permanent part of popular culture — the idea that a friendship must be a perpetually beautiful relationship that stands the test of a lifetime. Tate argues otherwise.

“The premise of my book is not ‘all friendships last forever.’ That is not the premise at all,” Tate said. “The premise is, when is repair possible? I really wanted to illuminate some of my scars and talk about what I’ve learned, because there are plenty of relationships that just lasted a season.”

By including examples of friendships that lasted for a few months or several years, Tate successfully challenges the assumption that true friendships must be lifelong. Tate also questions if “best” is a word that should ever describe an intimate relationship. Her writing suggests that describing a friendship with the adjective “best” is a kind of categorical error, seeing as a quantitative metric cannot attempt to describe something as immaterial as a human relationship.

“Trying to be the best is really problematic,” she said. “I have an energy inside of me that is about striving and trying to be the best, but that’s not the best energy to bring to a friendship. The better energy for a friendship is softer, it’s fluid, it’s more encompassing.”

Unlike portrayals of effortless female friendships in media, Tate also stresses that all friendships require work. But when is the work worth it? She asks herself a similar question, reflecting, “When are we spinning our wheels and when are we deepening intimacy? That’s the central question of my life, forget about my books.”

Digging deeper into this idea, Tate differentiates between the “good” and “bad” work that it takes to power a friendship.

“My latest working thesis is, I’m in a good pain if I’m being honest and I’m setting boundaries and I’m not treating anyone like they’re fragile,” she said. “I’m in darker waters, or ‘bad pain’ if you will, if I’m not willing to speak up or tell the truth or say honestly what I want, or if I’m desperately afraid of hurting someone because I’m perceiving them having some kind of fragility.”

Beyond her thoughtful words and writing, Tate also has a willingness to put her ideas into immediate practice. She stressed the need to not only talk about the importance of friendships but to implement friendship-building practices into one’s daily routine.

In the context of her book tour for “B.F.F.”, Tate shared a simple yet impactful practice she applied to her own life. Despite the typical practice being for publicists to book hotel rooms for touring authors, Tate chose to prioritize her friendships instead.

“My rule for myself was if someone lives in the city where I was going, then I would stay with them,” she said. “It’s been scary, but so wonderful.”

Among Tate’s most powerful qualities as a writer is her altruistic writing style — an ability to share the very real, often painful parts of her life in an effort to help those around her. Despite the lacking coverage of female friendship in literature and media, it remains even more difficult to find authors who are willing to talk about the null result — the friendships that, despite the time and work put into them, just didn’t quite work out. Tate, however, remains open to sharing these personal moments.

“I have a sense I’m not the only woman out there that feels ashamed or disappointed with friendships. I’m talking to her, I want her to feel less alone,” she said.

In the midst of bachelorette parties and maid of honor speeches of reality TV shows and commercials for glittery friendship bracelets, Christie Tate is the reality check. Tate simultaneously reminds readers of the sacred beauty that a friendship can offer to life, while always making sure to hold the reader’s hand through the tumultuous work that every relationship requires.

—Staff writer Sarah M. Rojas can be reached at sarah.rojas@thecrimson.com.

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