Having friends decades younger/older

By Caitlin Kelly

I'm young enough at heart to really want this Babar hot water bottle cover!
I’m young enough at heart to really want this Babar hot water bottle cover!

Is it possible? It is for Jose and I. Maybe because we have no children, nor even nieces or nephews to enjoy and hang out with. If we want to savor the company of people decades our junior, in a purely social setting, how does that happen?

For me, it’s been finally meeting a few blogging friends, women whose work I’ve known for years, and vice versa, but who’ve never met face to face.

Blogging blind date!

What if — we both feared — the other person was actually awful IRL? Had bad breath or terrible manners or was a nasty snob who edits her work so carefully that none of that shit leaked out into their blog posts?

I had followed Cadence Woodland, who writes Small Dog Syndrome, since she was writing it from a police department (what?!) of a “religious university” she discreetly refused to name in some far-off American state. I had no inherent interest in that sort of work, but her voice, then as now, was witty, funny, observant.

A good blog lets you feel the personality of its writer; if you like them on-line, then, it seems logical you’d enjoy one another’s company just as much in person. She and I then worked together for a year when I needed help with my freelancing business and she needed some extra income — and we got to know one another better, by phone, email and Skype.

But we still hadn’t met, until I asked if I might stay with them in London in their small flat.

For a week.

(Would that wreck it all?)She and her husband Jeff have moved permanently to London, so our first meeting was at St. Pancras train station, as I came off the Eurostar from Paris. Wearing, natch, a brown fedora. She flew at me with a ferocious hug. It was adorable. We sat down for a coffee and talked for so long that Jeff called to ask: “Where are you? Are you OK?” And we were.

She was all I’d expected, and more, moving at the speed of sound through London’s crowded Underground, touring me to all her favorite spots, from Borough Market to Portobello to Spitalfields. We had a blast.

This Moomin mug also makes me happy!
This Moomin mug also makes me happy!

I can’t decide if you have to be an “old soul” in your 20s — or someone with a very young spirit in your 50s — to have such a friendship. I’m not sure it really matters why it works, as long as both people enjoy it. It’s also, like any friendship, reliant on shared values, interests and tastes, whether medieval history, where to find a great lipstick or how to navigate ex-pat life.

For me, these transcend age or life experience.

Same with Mallory Guinee, a recent Carleton College grad teaching high school English in Paris and who blogs at May Meander. She impulsively invited me out for coffee while I was there, then thought “Oh…what if….?” We, too, had a terrific time, so much so that we spent my last night in Paris having dinner together again. She’s only 23, but has traveled to Mali, plays the harp and has a sense of the world that is far beyond that of many people decades older.

Blurry pic from the Cafe St. Regis, Ile St. Louis, Paris
Blurry pic from the Cafe St. Regis, Ile St. Louis, Paris

The other way Jose and I have made several friends in their 20s is through his mentoring of young photojournalists through The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, an annual event open to anyone who’s a student member of NABJ or NAHJ.

While we’ve remained close to many of our “kids”, two of them — Alex and Molly — feel like our own in some ways. Both have spent many nights on our sofa, (we live in a one-bedroom apartment), and we’re in touch with them via Facebook, Twitter, phone and email. Alex just moved to Istanbul for his final semester of college and I’m hoping we can visit him there. Here’s his portfolio and hers; Molly spent all last summer traveling SouthEast Asia as a working photographer. Not bad for someone who is barely halfway through her 20s!

I feel lucky to know these people, for a few reasons. Selfishly, they’re just great fun! Like Jose and I, they, too are bright, ambitious and fairly driven, determined to carve out creative success in a difficult world. We’re happy to mentor them as well.

But, I admit, I feel out of step with my 50-ish female peers. We live in an affluent suburban New York county and women there have mostly followed predictable paths: early marriage, motherhood and stay-at-home life supported by high-earning husbands or their own corporate incomes. They live in big houses, drive new cars and dote on their kids and grandchildren. Few have traveled widely, beyond luxury resorts, or have taken the financial and social risks of ex-patriate life.

None of which I can relate to.

It’s lonely!

And, by my age, you have (ideally!) some life wisdom to share, about work, love, friendship. If you have no younger relatives, no one wants to hear it. But our younger friends are often hungry for advice and insight from a loving adult who’s not their parent or boss.

It’s an interesting relationship in other respects — we’re looking at (we hope!) retirement within the decade and our younger friends are still seeking their first or better jobs. I watch their anxiety and excitement over this with relief that I’m mostly done with that part of my life; they can see, looking at us, what decades of hard word and frugality can bring: a nice home, retirement savings, a good partner to share it with. I’ve also seen my parents’ lifelong enjoyment of younger friends, so this just seems normal to me.

How about you?

Do you have enjoy friendships with anyone decades older or younger than you?  

30 thoughts on “Having friends decades younger/older

  1. debra

    great read…it’s funny for many years I was always the decade(s) younger friend…I think it was my career choice. I loved my older friends. Decades later, reverse is true and I’m loving the younger friends I’ve connected with whether through discovering spinning at the gym at 56, redirection of my career, or through my three 20-something man-boys. I find I laugh so much more than I ever have and take great joy when they laugh back…..

  2. themodernidiot

    I have friends on both ends of the spectrum. Kinda like skin color, the heart doesn’t notice age, I guess; like speaks to like, as they say.

    I think how You connect with people, from all walks of life, regardless of what your inner cynic wants you to believe, reflects your openness to new experience. If your drag net is infinite; you’re bound to catch diversity.

    And frankly, you’re fabulous on a cracker, Kelly; how could we not all laterally gravitate your way?

  3. Working in a bookstore – (maybe the same for any retail biz) – puts all ages into a great soup. I often forget that some of my colleagues or customers are decades younger or older than me. And even more often, I forget how old I am, too. Some are more interesting to me than others – and their age does not always have anything to do with it.
    Books, art, travel, food? — things that inspire passion and call to something deeper within us just erases all that social shit, don’t you think?

  4. Sometimes I feel that I can relate more to older women than to people my own age. Of course, that’s not true of everyone and I do have college friends in my peer group. But my life experience so far (long story….probably several stories) has involved more than most people experience by their early twenties. Perhaps that’s why I don’t have a problem being friends with people who aren’t the same age as me. And I think common interests link people, regardless of age. I’m interested in people generally: one of my favourite things to do in big cities is to sit in a cafe and people-watch! 🙂

    1. I never (which sounds weird) feel some huge age difference when with younger friends; yes, I’ve had many more experiences that still lie ahead for them (possibly) – marriage, jobs, divorce (one hopes not), moving, etc.

      But I think we all grapple with the same existential questions — and we all need someone to laugh with!

  5. I do have friends of varying age ranges. Keeps things interesting.

    As for meeting another blogger, I haven’t done it so far, but want to. I think it might be awkward at first, but, then again, isn’t meeting anyone for the first time a bit clumsy? 😉

      1. Yes, that would be true. But are people the same in real life as they are on their blog? I’m not nearly as zany in person as I am on my blog. People would be SO disappointed if they expected a laugh a minute…

  6. We have many friends around ten years younger, many more about 30 years older. I’d never much thought about it until this post. Common interests, values, and experiences transcend age, I think. Our closest couple friends are within five years of our age, but their children are much younger and unlike me, she’s always worked. We have the best times, make the best memories together.

  7. I’m often in places where I’m associating with people my age or much older, so it’s become kind of easy for me to have friendships with them. And I’ve become better with younger people as well, especially my sisters, whom up until a few years ago we fought like cats and dogs. Then again, my sisters are basically the youngest people I have regular contact with, so I’m not sure if that’s answering your question the way you mean it.

  8. sportsfan718

    Great post Caitlin! I think the opposite is true for me. As someone in their early twenties, I have an easier time relating to people who are years older than I as opposed to ”kids” in my age group.

    1. Thanks!

      I so enjoy “my kids” (the students I teach at Pratt) — all of whom, obviously, are much younger. For some reason (generational?), they don’t relate to me (obviously at least) as an older person or authority figure (which I am) but also respect me.

  9. I’ve noticed that I tend to gravitate towards people who are decades older (50s to 90s!) than younger ones. I don’t know why. But we tend to know how to talk about stuff without feeling ‘self-conscious’ that youngsters still have.

  10. As I saunter up towards forty, I have friends in their teens (the children of other friends, but recognised as connections in their own right) and friends in their sixties and seventies, and all points in between. I’ve never found age to be a helpful identifier of people to hang out with. Are they interesting? That’s all that counts.

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