Embracing and Celebrating Intergenerational Friendships

How do we savour and celebrate age differences in our friendships?

When we are young, we primarily have friends our own age. We have many opportunities to meet and make friends when we are young— spending our days with other kids in our grade — learning, studying, playing during school or in extra-curricular activities e.g. soccer, hockey, gymnastics, dance, etc. We are all the same age, born in the same year, give or take a few months. In fact, it is rather unusual to make friends with someone from a higher or lower grade unless we are moved up or held back a grade.

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Amazingly, as we leave our school years, the doors to new friendships open even wider. Now we have opportunities to meet people who are several years, even decades, older than ourselves. It can happen anywhere — at our jobs, during leisure activities, while volunteering and at social events.

Time has a powerful impact on our perspective on friendship. The magic of time is that, as we grow older, the age difference between friends does not feel so big or noticeable. If anything, we tend to appreciate those special people in our lives, no matter the age.

Age differences in friendship can be small or great. Five years, ten years, twenty years — a generational difference — and many more. It really just depends on the two people who decide to become friends. Author Maurice Sendak and director Spike Jonze were good friends and they had a 30-year age difference. You can see their friendship in “Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak” (2009).

Here are some of the many gifts to having intergenerational friendships with people who are younger and/or older than us:

  • finding out about life perspectives and experiences that are vastly different from our own,
  • sharing new trends, gadgets, slang and innovations relevant to our personal stage in life,
  • experiencing the enthusiasm, openness and vigour of younger friends,
  • noticing and appreciating the understanding, patience, wisdom and (sometimes dark) humour of someone who has lived several decades more than us,
  • inspiring and accepting each other as we age together,
  • expanding our “family of friends” to include those who feel like they are our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, etc.

Untitled2Sadly, once we reach past our middle-aged years, we begin to experience the deaths of friends who are the same age or older than us. It is a natural ending to friendships. Having friendships with people who are younger than us can give us a sense of support, love and balance when these losses feel overwhelming. In this context, we can find ways to celebrate the lives of lost friends and remember all that we learned from that connection.

Questions to ponder:

Do you have friends who are older or younger than you? Why (not)?

What have you learned from your younger and/or older friends?

What is unique or important for you about your intergenerational friendships?

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