An Age Old Question

Well, cooking class was a success. As you may know, Matt and I made Italian food on Friday night—we got a gift certificate to the nearby cooking school for our wedding, and since I was able to bundle it up with birthday celebrations, Matt couldn’t say no. Sneaky Brilliant, I know. In anticipation of class, I was plenty anxious about who our cooking partners would be—it was four chefs to a station—so I tried to plan our arrival just right. I wanted to have our pick of the cooking partner litter.

In the end the teacher paired us up, so I needn’t have worried.

We got a great couple. Let’s call them Jerry and Elaine. They were smart, friendly and every time Jerry gave directions, Elaine responded with “Yes, Chef!” a la Gordon Ramsey.

Over the course of the cooking, and then—even better—the eating, we got to know our partners. We traded work stories (they’re both in advertising), travel plans (Matt and I are booking a trip to Croatia!) and Jerry tried to convince Matt of the wonders of the iPad (I was especially grateful on this front since I am totally coveting the new gadget and would like for Matt to be on board with the purchase).

There was only one hiccup, if you can even call it that. Jerry and Elaine have about two decades on us. They have a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old and live in the suburbs. Not that any of that should disqualify our friendship, but obviously it wouldn’t be the same kind of relationship we might have with non-parents who lived around the corner.

I’ve wondered recently about the relationship between age and friendship. Is there one? Part of me loves the idea of having a close friend who’s a bit older and wiser. There’s something poetic about it. (I’m talking more than a decade difference, not a few years.) She could be a mentor, an older sister type, except with no investment in the rest of my family. On the other hand, I could be the tie to her former life, before the children and the suburbs and the 16-hour workdays.

Once we graduate college, does age have any bearing on who our best friends will be? Or, more specifically, can be?

In Friendship: An Expose, author Joseph Epstein talks about his dearest friend, who was 27 years older. “As one grows older, a relatively small difference in age—four years in adolescence, say, ten or twelve in early adulthood—once providing an unpassable obstacle to friendship, seems to matter less and less and then not matter at all. … And yet there remains something to the obvious fact that one’s closest friends are likely to be drawn, at least for many years, from among one’s contemporaries.”

I think Elaine and I could be great friends. Maybe not the call-you-up-to-chat type, but certainly the mutual-fondness-let’s-look-out-for-each-other variety. And Matt took to Jerry too. There could definitely be a couple friendship in our future.

As we gathered our things to leave, I slipped my business card out of my wallet, ready with my big move. But before I could even offer it, Elaine asked for my email. “Oh, here’s my card,” I said. “I’d love to stay in touch!”

Jerry said they loved cooking with us. We traded “lets do it again sometime” farewells, but we didn’t get their contact info, so we shall see if she writes. I hope so.

Do you think age and friendship are related? Have you ever had a close friend who was at least 10 years older or younger than you? How did the friendship come to be? Like I said, I think there’s something romantic—something Good Will Hunting—to the notion of having a confidant who’s not your contemporary, but is it realistic?


Filed under The Search

31 responses to “An Age Old Question

  1. hb

    One of my closest friends is 10 years older than I am…we met at work… and it has never felt like an obstacle at all. I think you can have very close friendships with people of any age, but when the person is in a different generation (which seems to be defined around 20-25 years). I think that would mean very different life experiences and they might feel more like a parent than a friend.

    But, of course, if you click, then age might just fade away and leave you with a connection that can transcend everything. You won’t know unless you try…I hope that Jerry and Elaine turn out to be a great new couple friend.

  2. I made a good friend last year (I met her in a writing class) who is in her sixties – more than thirty years older than me. We have become writing partners and I’ve enjoyed many great conversations over coffee with her. Sure, we don’t talk a lot about the cool new bar that just opened up, but we talk a lot about hopes and dreams and disappointments and family and friendship. All the important stuff.

  3. Ana

    I love having friends older & younger. I like having someone who’s “been there, done that” and can offer a very realistic perspective on my current dramas; in the same way, I feel like I offer to that to some of my younger friends AND I can live vicariously through their dating woes & make fun of their oh-so-trendy styles that I remember wearing in elementary school 🙂
    Most of the friends outside of my 5 year age range
    I met at work or in the neighborhood.

    Its about attitude, as they say. There are people MY age that I think are “too old” or “too young” to hang out with. I’m not into clubbing the night away OR early-bird-dinner at the family chain. I’ve noticed that the moms that I can be friends with (even though I am one now!) don’t talk about their kids constantly—they have other interests and they LIKE finding non-mom friends so that they can develop & discuss those interests.
    I’m sure the Jerry & Elaine may feel the same—clearly they want to pursue other interests & friends or they wouldn’t have been at that cooking class or asked for your contact!

    Common interests and just that “connection” are so hard to find that I’d take it in any age demographic!

  4. I have a good friend who is my mother’s age. I met her in spinning class. I enjoy this friendship because it’s like getting the wisdom of the ages (that your mother could share) but without all the baggage.

    It’s always such a bonus when you find a couple as friends. Sometimes it seems like women meet with a potential for friendship but the men turn out to be not quite as chummy. I hope Jerry and Elaine turn out to be great fun. We had great friends like that for years. Sadly, they moved away and it was quite a loss to me.

    We’ll have to talk about Croatia – we are going this summer. Can’t wait.

  5. I got married when I was 24. That automatically made me kind of an outcast in my age group. I was in grad school and all the other students were at the bar or doing other stuff I no longer really did. (Not that I ever really hung out at bars so maybe I would have been an outcast anyway.) But I found that I made friends with other married women. They tended to be older. We had more in common. I found them more interesting. And I related more. I now have a bunch of friends around 40. (I’m 28.) I say, go for the older friend. Plus, if you do decide to procreate, you’ll get plenty of hand me downs for your spawn!

  6. I think it’s natural for us to be friends with people in our same age range. You have common experiences to talk about, etc. But it’s definitely possible to be friends w/ someone who is 10+ years older than you. One of my former co-workers is about 14 years older than me, but we have a great friendship. We have enough in common work & career-wise so can relate to each other over those topics. We’ll need be the kind of friends that talk on the weekends all that much – it’s def more of a Monday-Friday relationship, but it’s a friendship nonetheless..

  7. Iris Gonzalez

    I am 49 and have been trying actively to make new friends. Potential new friends often mistake me for being in my late 30s, so no, I don’t necessarily think age is an obstacle. However, I do find that as the older friend, I am more often the one providing more friendship “benefits”– understanding the need to reach out, to say thank you, to initiate and to reciprocate, to listen and communicate meaningfully. There are times I wish I was on the receiving end of these friendship benefits!

    That said, I can vouch personally that age is not an obstacle in a great friendship. My best (and longest) friendship is with someone I met when I was 21. Well, 28 years later, this dear friend is now 67, and I love her dearly. She is hip, wise, cool beyond her years, and I miss her terribly (since we live far apart). I say open your friendship horizons and make friends with those with whom you click– the rest will fall into place. And if you’re the younger friend, remembering social niceties (ask how your friend is doing, remember to call, send a written note!) goes a long way 🙂

  8. One of my best friends is 20+ years older than I am–she’s the same age as my in-laws. Most of the time I completely forget about the difference in our ages; I agree with others that it’s all about attitude. I have known people half her age (and younger!) who are less open, flexible, and curious. The things that bond us (work, daughters, common interests and ideas) more than bridge the chronology gap.

  9. katieleigh

    I have several close friends who are at least 10 years older than I am. We have so much in common that I sometimes forget about the age difference – and yet I love that I can seek advice from them, because they’ve been where I am.

  10. There is a turning point in our lives when we start to realize that we are starting to be the older ones on the block, so to speak. It happened to me at work. I started off the young’n, and by the time I left the company 10 years later I was training all the up-and-coming young’n’s. Similar thing happens with friendships. You start to realize that your current friendships are maturing or changing (hopefully) and you find yourself connecting with people older than you because they do tend to focus on the more important things in life like Rebecca said. I really believe that having a VARIETY of friends based on ALL factors, age included, is what keeps us learning and growing and well-rounded.

  11. Leanne

    A very close friend of mine when I first moved to the city was almost 10 years older than me. Also the guy I started dating at the time was about 8 years older. I felt close to both of them but also young. I wanted to go out late, but they were always trying to leave early. Perhaps that was due to me being 25 and new to the city. Either way, it got difficult and I have since lost touch with both of them.

    Being someone who was often the young, mature-for-her-age one that older kids allowed to hang out with them (in high school, college, etc) it felt natural to hang with the older crowd here in the city. However, recently something really weird has happened…for the last 5 years or so, I suddenly find myself in the role of older friend. And I hate it! All my older friends have drifted away and here I am finding myself giving sage advice to the young ones like they used to to me! It is really weird. I am trying to get used to it, and luckily as we get older the age difference definitely matters less and less…but still, it has been an adjustment.

    I miss my mentor-type older friends. And somehow I am becoming one for others. It’s trippy, to say the least.

    I enjoyed this post. While I think ideally we all want to be the same age as our BFFs, inevitably we find them in all shapes, sizes, and stages of gray hair. 🙂

  12. I think it’s definitely possible! I have a lot of friends who are a lot older than me. One of my closest friends here in Chicago is 14 years older than me and lives in the suburbs. We met at work, and although we don’t see each other very often, we talk almost daily. Despite the age difference, we have a lot in common and very similar interests. I’d say she knows more about what’s going on in my life than most of my friends who are my age. Although she has experience and age on her side, more often than not, she’s just looking to chat rather than impart wisdom on a younger version of herself.

    It sounds like you guys really hit it off with Jerry & Elaine, so definitely don’t let age or location get in the way! I’m sure they’d love an excuse to come to the city, and you and Matt could even venture out into the suburbs from time to time (it really is a nice break from downtown sometimes). I hope you hear from them! 🙂

  13. First of all, I completely agree with that quote from Joseph Epstein. It’s great!

    I think age has more to do with exposure than friendship. People close in age tend to do similar things, live in similar areas, attend similar events and therefore are more likely to meet, mingle and become friends.

    That said, if an opportunity presents itself that crosses over those age barriers and you have the chance to meet someone decades older or younger than you, why can’t there be a wonderful friendship that ensues. Some of my dearest friends are easily a decade older than me and I treasure their wisdom. I also have a few friends who are a decade younger than me and love feeling like the big sister with plenty of opportunities to impart my own wisdom. Yes, a different friendship than with a contemporary, but no less valued.

  14. I’m about your age, Rachel, so wouldn’t have friends 10 years younger. But I do have a very good friend exactly 10 years older. The friendship is helped by the fact that, despite the 10 years, we are in relatively similar life stages. In fact, I would say I am in a more “advanced” life stage, being that I live with my partner. I think that these “life stages” are important, if you are a working person you would most likely have less in common with a college student and vice versa. Married couples with kids tend to gravitate towards other married parents. It matters less about age, I think, than life situation.

  15. Karen

    Interesting Question. I have friends who are 30 years older than me and friends who are 20 years younger. Each friendship is unique and offers something different. The age difference has always bothered one of my friends who is my age. She always says, “you need younger friends, your friends are all so old.” I was never able to understand how age had anything to do with the bond of friendship, or why the ages of my friends bother her.

    Each of my friends opens a new door of opportunity and a new window of perspective, each is a unique treasure.

    My eldest sibling is 18 years older than me, so perhaps my definition of age range is more flexible as a result.

  16. As I say to my mom all the time, it’s not about age it’s about attitude. It fits for friendship too. As long as people have a connection, age isn’t as important as whether you mesh.

  17. Rachel,

    I have some writing friends that are thirty years older than me. I benefit from their life experiences and their writing critiques. There is less pretense among these women and their demeanor, their words have a subtle grace.

    On another note, do you know about Momalom Five for Ten ( Check it out. You have so much to offer my blogger friend!

  18. I love my older friends! I still keep in touch with my 6th grade teacher because somehow we bonded outside the normal teacher/student relationship. And I have a lovely former coworker who has become a true friend. We always joke that we are twins on opposite sides of the country who are separated by 25 years. I appreciate her advice on love and dating and life. I don’t think you’ll regret creating a friendship with Elaine. In a way having a friendship with Mona and Janice helps me to understand and appreciate my Mother more so I can see her as a friend too.

  19. Leigh

    I, too, have a good friend who I met through book club and she is 10+ years older then myself (I’m 33 y.o.) It was our similar upbringing (both grew up in the South, we are both Jewish) and interests (gardening, reading, movies, etc.) that brought us together and we have become close friends this past year. Also, living close to each other and the common interest in forming a friendship definitely helped us connect. Age is definitely a number as you get older….just be open to the idea that Elaine can become a potential BFF or has a circle of friends that will accept you.

  20. Eva

    Yay! Good job on the cooking class/birthday celebration/friend hunting.

    I agree that age is less of an issue in adulthood. Sure, it can be a challenge sometimes, but by and large it doesn’t come up. Husband is 9 years old than me, which used to worry me but now I hardly think about it (except when I realize he’ll get to retire before me).

    Husband and I have couple friends who are 10-15 years older than us. We’re great friends with these couples, but I will admit our relationship is different than with our contemporary (same-aged) couples. I think the children make a difference. I’d love to have friends who are having kids at the same time we are.

  21. I teach college students, so most days of the week I am around people who are between the ages of 18-22. I don’t socialize with my students, and even if they weren’t my students I still don’t think I’d be friends with them. It’s nothing personal; it’s just I feel like they’re in this totally different stage in life that I’ve already lived through. They’re focused on stuff like which major to choose, going clubbing every other night, playing video games every day, and what they’re going to do after graduation. And so it’s harder for me to relate to them at that level, so I’d rather hang out with people closer to my age.

  22. Brittany

    Such an interesting topic! Some of my very best friends throughout my life have been 10, 20, even 30 years my senior. I rarely see age as a barrier for friendship, though it sometimes produces strange situations.

  23. oooh, this is a good one. i have lots to say and will say it, but husband is begging me to turn off the light so i will have to say it tomorrow. xoxo

  24. As I might have mentioned in my comment on your other post, I’m a little behind the times this week. So ignore my question about how the cooking class turned out!

    I do think it’s possible to have friends who are significantly older or younger. A common interest goes a long way. And a mutual respect for the fact that you come from different decades, meaning you don’t necessarily have the same cultural references, is the other key.

    I have two friends who are older than I am. One is 20+ years older, and her role is more of a mentor, but there’s friendship there, too. The other is less than 10 years older, but her kids are much older than mine, so she has wisdom to pass on to me!

  25. Laura

    It’s funny, because I’m currently courting a BFF that’s 11+ years younger than me. Most of the time? I don’t even notice the difference.

    And then I say something like, “Remember on the TV show Silver Spoons where Ricky had that cool train running through his house? Remember?” And the blank stare in return says it all: “Was I even alive when this show was on?”

    But – I digress – I think what most everyone has said is spot on… once you’re an adult, if you share an interest then an age difference kind of fades into the background. I might be aware of the fact that I’m the older one in this potential match-up, but it doesn’t change how I act around her or how we get along.

    I do, however, attempt to refrain from starting out sentences with, “Well, when *I* was your age….”

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  28. Lynn

    One of my best friends is 40. I’m 20 and I would never discredit our friendship because of the age difference! We met at work, almost instantly clicked, and didn’t even realize each other’s actual ages until a couple of years into the friendship…she had thought I was older and I had thought she was younger. We absolutely have things to talk about and enjoy together, and we know that we can count of each other if either one of us needs anything:)

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