Why It's Important To Have Friends Of Different Ages

by Elizabeth Broadbent

People tend to have friends the same age they are. My husband and I generally did too, all the way through college and graduate school. We rarely were around kids. We never saw older people. My husband and I lived in this weird world where everyone but our professors was the same age. It was fun when I was 19; no little kids whined, and no one told me what to do.

But as I got older, things shifted. It started to feel more and more artificial. Everyone liked the same things. Everyone mostly had the same opinions; we had the same shared experiences. And that was cool, to an extent. But something felt like it was missing. We didn’t realize what was missing until we made friends of different ages.

We have friends who are at least two and a half decades older than us. At first, it weirded out both my husband and I; these people were our parents’ age. We had to resist the urge to call them Mr. and Mrs. So-And-So. Why would they want to be friends with us, anyway, we wondered. But they treated us like equals rather than kids and a decade later, we’re still close.

It’s possible, we found, that people in their mid-30s can actually not only get along with, but love Baby Boomers who weren’t forced on them by blood or circumstance. We’re dear friends with these Baby Boomers, who actually aren’t that much different than we are even though we span decades. They’ve been together rubbed the rough edges off their marriage, and we have kids but they don’t. Nonetheless we have a lot in common, and the differences we do have seem valuable rather than alienating. We can talk about them rather than around them, the way you might with your parents or relatives.

It actually means a lot to have friends who are significantly older than us, even if it did weird us out at first.

It also weirded us out when we made friends with people a lot younger than us. College students, for example, who we used to run into at church all the time. But they adored our kids. They were fun; we loved that they had so much ahead of them and were always so excited about it. As friends, they made us laugh. They made us remember when we were college students who went out and drank until late at night, who did stupid stuff and studied all night and lived in dorms with annoying roommates. They valued our friendship; we were older enough to be different, but not so old that we intimidated them. Later they’d tell us how much they learned from us, just by watching us be married and parent. The only thing that sucked? When they graduated and left. We celebrated with them but always mourned a little.

They have so much in front of them, compared to us. And when they have babies they’ll still have more in front of them than we will. Always. As friends, it means something special.

Both older and younger friends fill a different space than people the same age as us. They like different things. Our contemporaries tend to have the same tastes in movies and books and music as we do; they’re our friends because of these things.

But when it comes to older and younger friends, they can introduce us to new stuff. Or when we find we like the same things, it’s sort of delightful. Seinfeld and The West Wing cross generations, we’ve found. But other things don’t, and we trade them back and forth. My mom and her buddies took me to see Mama Mia recently. I thought, dear god, I can’t sit still for that long. But I absolutely, positively, completely loved it, and played the soundtrack for weeks (some of you are probably thinking that Mama Mia isn’t a Boomer thing, but it totally was for me). I also got bamboozled into seeing James Taylor play with Bonnie Raitt. Holy shit, I thought. This is seriously the best concert I’ve ever seen, hands-down no question. Never would have seen it without a Boomer dragging me there.

Making friends with people of different ages has meant so much to us. We’re so glad we got over calling people Mr. and Mrs., that we opened our doors to these random college students. It might seem sappy and stupid. It might seem overly sentimental, but these people have filled a gap in our lives we didn’t know we had. People used to know people in different stages, when families lived close, when towns were smaller (or maybe we just like to think that). But we don’t now. We stay wrapped up in our age group, in the echo chamber of our contemporaries. Reaching beyond that has enriched our lives.

Even when the college students try to recommend their music.