Why You Need Friends Who Are Older (And Younger) Than You
I attended a Friendsgiving this year, one that after many bottles of wine, happily became a sleepover. Many hours after the meal, when I was ready for seconds, I found myself in a dark kitchen with a woman twenty-eight years my senior. She, too, was spooning leftover dressing into a bowl, drizzling it with gravy, and wearing her pajamas.
It was late and dark and cozy in the kitchen, and we had had a fair amount to drink. Feeling that holiday spirit, we instantly bonded in that way you do when people who were recently strangers get close in a short, bright burst of intimacy—we started talking about The Big Stuff as we waited our turn at the microwave. Grief, love, sex, career. I was at a turning point in my life when it all felt like too much; I started to cry.
"When I look back," my new friend said, "I see I had no reason to be afraid. Of anything."
This is one reason I believe in the power of friendships that span the ages, a camaraderie that has been coined an "age gap" or "generation gap friendship." For me, the perspective of my older women friends isn't just lip service. It isn't gleaned from self-help books. It's the wisdom of experience. You know, the insights that come from actually, well, living.
"Bridging the generation gap not only increases the friend pool, but it also expands and supports mental well-being," Anna Kudak, co-author of What Happy Women Do, told Good Housekeeping. "Friendships with older and younger people help broaden your perspective, which in turn allows you to have compassion and empathy in your day-to-day life."
It works both ways, not only for younger women looking for sage input as they navigate life, but for the women on the other side of the age gap. According to recent research in the journal Personal Relationships, supportive friendships in old age are a stronger predictor of overall well-being than strong family connections. In other words, friendships are thicker than water.
Stylist Patricia Field has made a lifelong habit of ignoring age and befriending those who are simply the most fun.
"I never think about age," she told The Cut. "My whole life has been with younger people. I like being around them." In Greece when she was 65, she made friends with Sandy Armeni, then 19. "I liked her energy from the beginning." The two ended up living together, first in Pat's apartment and then in Sandy's. "We never fought," Sandy said. "Not in her big house or at my tiny place. We spent a lot of time cooking at home, drinking, smoking cigarettes, and talking about life."
Age has brought us together with friends from kindergarten craft time to college keg parties, but researchers are finding it's not the most important factor in what makes a meaningful and lasting friendship. Hundreds of interviews with girls and women confirmed for Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., co-author of Friends Forever: How Girls and Women Forge Lasting Relationships, that the friendships that stood the test of time were not those built on shared demographics alone.
"Although we may find ourselves in casual friendships with women who are similar to us — in age, motherhood status, career choice, social class, etc. — the relationships that will deepen and grow are built on much more personal and meaningful factors," she said. "The friendships that endure are those that provide unconditional acceptance, compassionate honesty, and mutual trust."
Furthermore, the connectivity of the internet is making it easier than ever to transcend superficial shared demographics and bond with people over what most lights us up—from social justice to soft pants.
"Women, in general, have the ability to value people's humanity at any age," said feminist cultural critic Joan Morgan, who herself has a cadre of younger friends. "There isn't really a point at which we render people useless because they get older. And we don't necessarily dismiss them because they're younger."
In other words, we keep our hearts and our minds open. So when my Friendsgiving friend invites me over for martinis and backgammon, you can bet your Susan B. Anthony dollar I will say yes.