Nathalie De Graef (33) and Charlotte Wilmssen () are two Antwerp residents with a mission. Nathalie is the woman behind the Instagram page and the book of the same name All my friends have children. She writes about the choice to remain child-free and maintaining friendships when one is a mother and the other is not. Charlotte makes the podcast How To Be Single. She talks to guests like Amelie Albrecht about all aspects of single life. They both offer understanding and recognition to (especially) women who do not find this everywhere.
The two met for the first time in June. “Charlotte invited me as a guest on her podcast. I thought that was strange, because I have never been single,” laughs Nathalie. “But we quickly discovered a similarity in our target group. They are, just like us, looking for like-minded people, women who want the same in life.” The Antwerp ladies find exactly that in each other. Six months later they call themselves friends.
Girls Gonna Meet
The idea for Girls Gonna Meet will be born soon. A call on Instagram shows that many followers of Nathalie and Charlotte are open to a pleasant evening among women. “There is a taboo on loneliness, because no one wants to appear pathetic,” Charlotte explains. “However, it is very normal to feel alone sometimes, especially if you are the only single person in your area.” Women with a group of friends in the baby boom phase often have the same feeling. Especially if they don’t have or want children of their own. “When your friends have children, your world changes along with it,” says Nathalie. “And your agenda. But there are always people who experience similar things. Finding those people and connecting with them can ease such a phase.”
The well-answered question on Instagram appears not to be a false omen. Two days before the event, Nathalie and Charlotte have to put a stop to registrations. They rented half of the Quotes cocktail bar, more than fifty people present would make it too busy. “When we came up with the idea, we said to each other: if no one comes, we’ll just have a nice evening together. But we even had to turn away a few people! That’s crazy.”
Women without friends?
The appointment is Saturday at half past eight in Quotes. Ten minutes after the start the bar is already busy. Registration is free, but almost all registered people show up. The enthusiasm is certainly good.
“Is that just a lot of women who have no friends?” A confused colleague of Nathalie wondered when she told him about the event. The answer: anything but. The women we talk to are sociable, social, have friends and some are even in relationships. The majority of them had the balls to walk into a bar alone and sit at a table with complete strangers. So no antisocial bigots. “Charlotte and I see ourselves as part of our target group,” Nathalie explains. “Great women who do have friends, but don’t always find someone to go to that concert, that play or to the karaoke bar – in Charlotte’s case – on Saturday. We are looking for women who will spontaneously join us for a drink. Who want to have fun. And who don’t always want to talk about renovations, relationships and children.”
After a first cocktail and with the help of question cards, fortune cookies The conversations get started with quotes and a photo competition. The initial discomfort is quickly overcome. In practice, it often concerns relationships and children. The single life and the absence of a desire to have children is simply a common ground for many. “Wow, it’s so nice to chat with someone who thinks and feels the same,” we hear after a conversation about the lack of maternal feelings. “Nathalie, they are talking about dating apps here!” Charlotte calls to her partner. Nathalie’s surprised look requires more explanation. “We never talk about that with my friends, because I’m the only single one,” she says. “Unless your love life serves as entertainment for your friends in a relationship,” someone adds with a slightly irritated look.
Where things go less smoothly, Charlotte and Nathalie act as matchmakers. Occasionally they introduce women to each other. “In the beginning the conversation is brief awkward, but that will pass. Some really need that push. We don’t want to leave them to their fate, so we act as a matchmaker.” As it goes on a women’s evening, after cocktail it becomes number two – or was it three? – broached the subject of sex. The sign that those friendships will be okay tonight.
Five men can be spotted among the cheerful group of women. One of them is a fan of Charlotte’s podcast. “Many of my friends are now married. They go out less,” he explains. He is also looking for company and friendship. “I’ve always had a lot of friends, both at school and at work. I’m also attracted to women, but I’m not ready for dating right now. I’m doing well as a single person.”
The organizers ensure that the border is well guarded. “The event is aimed at female friendship, but we do not want to discriminate. So men are definitely welcome to come. When registering, some indicated that they wanted to be there to meet single women. We have made it clear to them that that is not the intention. We want to create a place where women feel completely safe and comfortable. It should not become a dating event,” Charlotte explains. “Women can of course also date each other. Of course we cannot stop that,” Nathalie adds.
When we leave the party just after midnight, we leave a large group behind. “I was home at a quarter past three o’clock,” Nathalie says in a small voice on Sunday. Quotes closed its doors around 1:00 am and the party had to continue elsewhere. “We went to Cabron for a party. A group of six women didn’t like it there as much and went to Borgerhout for another party. They didn’t know each other at all before Saturday. That’s cool, right?”
The evening was an unqualified success. It is clear to Nathalie and Charlotte: they must continue this. A second edition will be released early next year. Although it won’t be free anymore. “Next time we will probably rent a location so that more people can come. This time it was an investment, but we can’t keep doing that.”
The duo is still thinking about the next location. Contrary to expectations, Saturday’s audience was not necessarily Antwerp. Many women came from distant Limburg and East Flanders to the cookie city. “The online survey showed that Ghent was a popular option for an event,” says Nathalie. “So it is certainly an option to do it elsewhere. To be honest, we didn’t dare talk or dream too much about that before Saturday. It’s surreal that this was such a success. I always say it to my husband: female friendship is really something special.”