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The Girls and Life: Meet the Aberdeen women helping their peers form friendships in their 20s

Post-pandemic life and digital demands can cause loneliness, say the 20-something Granite City professionals tackling social isolation.

The Girls and Life: Antonette Gonzalez, Zoe Daniel, Maisie West and Kessia Thomas. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson
The Girls and Life: Antonette Gonzalez, Zoe Daniel, Maisie West and Kessia Thomas. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Turning to her friends for much-needed support during a breakup, Aberdeen events assistant Antonette Gonzalez had this thought: “What if I didn’t have such great people around me? And what do people do if they don’t?”

It proved to be a “lightbulb moment” for the 23-year-old Robert Gordon University graduate.

Antonette Gonzalez, founder of The Girls and Life. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“I was so aware of how grateful I was, and am, to have good friends, but equally aware that there are a lot of young women in my age bracket who are struggling to form deep, true friendships.

“I felt prompted to do something about it. The Girls and Life was born.”

Making friends can be difficult

Along with a band of her girlfriends, Anto – as she’s known, put her digital marketing expertise to good use.

“We posted something on Instagram and right away I was getting messages back. Some from girls I knew, some from people I’d lost touch with, but most poignantly from others who I didn’t know at all.

“I think I said something like ‘making friends in your 20s isn’t easy’ and just added an invitation to get in touch.”

It was immediately clear they’d scratched an itch.

Launching in December 2023, a traditional time for alcohol-fuelled socials, The Girls and Life (The GaL) took a completely different approach.

One of the relaxed gatherings for young “20-something” women in Aberdeen.

“Coming out of the pandemic, people my age have struggled to re-learn social skills and get used to hanging out again. The last thing we wanted was to form a community around the need for alcohol.

“The Girls and Life has the opposite heart. Instead it’s more ‘come as you are.’ If you’re quiet, great. If you’re more extroverted, brilliant. If you’ve never put yourself out there and hung out in a group, you don’t need Dutch courage to belong here…just show up.”

A different kind of community

And show up they did.

From a first brunch at Aberdeen’s Craftsman Coffee Shop and Bar attracting 13 people, their quiz night saw more than 30 young women congregate to “chill” together.

Part of the GaL team is Zoe Daniel, a 25-year-old freelance journalist.

She got involved after returning to Aberdeen following a brief period working in London.

Journalist Zoe Daniel, who’s part of The GaL team. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“So many of my friendships had changed shape,” she said. “I realised that social media meant a lot of my friendships felt close but were actually quite surface-level.

“Stepping back, I noticed that, other than work, there weren’t many contexts for young women to meet and make friends. We’re often pitted against one another.

“I felt it was important to come alongside Antonette and help create this space.”

‘We tried to think of everything’

A lot of thought goes into each event.

A scavenger hunt at Haddo House allowed attendees to get to know one another while enjoying the scenery, and the most recent hang-out in the park involved crafts.

“It’s not about those things,” added Anto, “they just help break the ice and if people aren’t good with eye contact at first, there’s a distraction.

A recent park event where frienships were formed over a picnic and crafts.  Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“But we have gone to lengths to make sure we place value on every person attending by small details, finishing touches and ideas.”

Coming out of a pandemic, prolonged periods of isolation, and what they say is an increasing tendency to “look down” at phones and devices, it seems helpful.

It’s not so much speed-dating for friends, as it is slow and intentional interactions that will help build connections.

The Girls and Life team member, Maisie West. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Maisie West is 25 and works as an early years practitioner in Aberdeenshire.

“In a world where it’s so easy to get lost in scrolling on our phones or to live life on autopilot, I love communities like ours where we actively fight isolation and loneliness.”

She’s not the only one it seems.

This weekend they’ll be doing a six-mile Culture Crawl around Aberdeen to raise money for the city’s Maggie’s Centre, and expect their biggest group to date.

‘We’d love everyone to have friends like ours’

Accountant Kessia Thomas, 23, is part of the GaL team, and will be taking part.

She’s seen first-hand how wanted such a community is within the Granite City.

“At our third event I randomly spoke to a couple of girls who were in the same coffee shop. We invited them to come along next time and they did. They loved it.

“I also met someone at a Girls and Life event that I bumped into at a mutual friend’s party. It was so fun to meet someone I had connected with before, in a different setting.

The GaL quiz night was one of their most popular hang-outs.

“We are excited to see it grow. But really it comes down to the fact I have amazing best friends and I can’t imagine life without them. We want everyone to feel like that.”

Helping improve mental health in Aberdeen

With a busy event to organise, and a full-time job to get on with, Anto is keen to get back to the office where she works, at King’s Church in Bridge of Don.

Out and about with The Girls and Life.

“Isn’t that the whole point though?” she adds. “Life is busy. Without intentionally taking time to invest in friends and friendships we can become lonely really quickly.

“I honestly believe – and hope – this will do something to help the mental health crisis we see for people our age. How can it not?

“If you’d like to join us – and you’re a girl in your 20s – there’s a place for you with The Girls and Life.”

  • To find out more about the Girls and Life, or their Culture Walk taking place on Friday, June 21 at 5pm, follow them on Instagram (@thegirlsandlife).
  • The Girls and Life is open to all young women in and around their 20s.