She was on the radio a few weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day. Introduced as “Lieke van den Krommenacker, journalist, storyteller and love-letter writer”, she told listeners about her speciality: writing love letters (and, if necessary, break-up letters) on commission. She composes them on an old typewriter or her laptop during events like music festival Pinkpop or theatre festival FestiValderAA, or at a local bookshop on Saturday afternoons. This spring, she and a friend will be driving around the city of Leeuwarden in a mobile love-letter office, stopping at health care institutions, among other places. “It’s part of a project to combat loneliness.”
She’s been a self-employed business owner since August 2019. “I’m following my heart and doing what I’m good at.” In addition to love letters, she writes stories about what moves people, about their joys and sorrows. She also prepares talk shows for the Museum of Friesland and writes about art and literature.
She knew she wanted to be a journalist from an early age. A child born and raised in Brabant, she wrote little poems and read anything and everything. “My mother says I taught myself to read.” But she felt like going to journalism school would be a waste of her secondary-school diploma. “For some reason, I was under the impression that I had to go to university, rather than pursue a more practical degree.” What would she study, though? “I wanted to study ten different subjects at once: sociology, philosophy, anthropology, literature, journalism. I was interested in all of those things.” She discovered Maastricht’s Arts and Sciences programme by chance. “I loved it. It opened up a whole new world for me. PBL was unique. We studied in small groups and viewed social developments from all angles. We really delved in and did a lot of thinking. I certainly thought myself into a corner from time to time, especially when we discussed postmodern philosophers. It was all so theoretical, I couldn’t always wrap my mind around it.”
She became a student journalist at Observant, wrote for FASoS student magazine Mosaïek and, after graduating in 2005, applied for master’s programmes in journalism after all. She wanted to go to Amsterdam, so she could move in with her boyfriend at the time, but was rejected. “I cried my eyes out and eventually decided to go to Groningen, where I had been accepted. I’d had more fun at their open day anyway. And when I first got off the train in Groningen, I felt the same way I’d felt when I was in Maastricht for the first time: I felt right at home. But I’d ignored all that, because I wanted to go to Amsterdam.”
She loved the city, its people and the way the programme combined theory and practice. “We immediately went out there to write articles.” After six months, her relationship ended. “It was very sad, but it also created some space for me. I’d lost myself a little. My boyfriend knew what he wanted and saw a future for himself in development aid. I went along with that, but I forgot to think about what I wanted and to trust my intuition. I was yet to find my path. Now, I was completely free to do so.”
Her first year in Groningen felt “a bit like studying abroad in my own country”. She studied hard, went out a lot, had a lot of fun and did a lot of new things. “I never spent a year abroad during my time in Maastricht. I thought I couldn’t afford it. I really regret that.” Her first year flew by, but the process of writing her thesis was a different story. “I kept trying and thinking I’d disappoint my mother and never get my master’s degree.” A few years and countless jobs later (“I worked in the cafeteria in every single university building”), she finally bit the bullet and dropped out. “I wanted to get the degree for others, not for myself. I wanted to work. I thought I’d feel terrible, but I’ve rarely felt as relieved as I did when I threw out everything to do with my thesis.”
In 2010, she started working as a regional reporter for the newspaper Leeuwarder Courant, a job that included reporting on municipal councils in the area. She later landed a similar job at regional newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden. “It was great, although I hated those municipal council meetings. I don’t have a nose for news. I also don’t like it. I don’t like politics, either. I don’t like misery. I take no pleasure in being a relentless reporter, no matter how important those kinds of reporters are. I’m critical and I ask good questions, but I often take a gentler approach than the one the world of journalism tends to prefer. I want to write stories about people, about what moves them, about art and culture. That’s what I’m good at. I didn’t have much time to write those kinds of stories, though.”
After nine years, she stopped “trying to be who I wasn’t”. She quit her job as a reporter and started her own business in August 2019. Around the same time, she moved in with “a sweet, gentle man who is also a writer”. He was the first significant other she brought home for Christmas since her boyfriend when she was a student. “For a long time, I thought being in a relationship wasn’t for me. Men paid attention to me, but it never lasted long. As soon as it got serious, I became so afraid he would leave me that it ended up happening. Koen wasn’t put off by this. I was very honest about it from day one, which helped.”
How about children? Is she interested in living a typical domestic life? It is the way she was raised, and many of the people around her are headed down that road. She’s not so sure she wants that for herself, though. “I don’t think I do. I’m not 100% sure, but then, I never am. I have a lot of conversations about this topic. For a long time, I wanted to want it – it’s just nice and easy to be doing what everyone else is doing. But I don’t think having children is for us. And that’s fine.” Something she does still want to do is spend a year abroad. She once spent three months in New Zealand, and she would like to go back there for twelve months. Back then, she went alone; this time, she’ll be with Koen.