- Friends don’t have to be the same age to get along, despite common misconceptions.
- One friendship expert told The New York Times that all you really need to become friends is positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.
- Hitting these markers can be harder than it sounds, but intergenerational friendships especially can be rewarding.
A recent New York Times article by Abby Ellin spotlights the proliferation of new “women’s groups” that bring together ladies of different ages.
The fact that this is news – people can still get along even if they were born in different eras! – speaks to the prevalence of myths and misunderstandings around adult friendship.
According to one expert Ellin interviewed – Shasta Nelson, author of the book “Frientimacy” – there are three prerequisites for a flourishing friendship, and a similar age is not one of them.
Those three items are: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. In other words, you have to enjoy each other’s company, be in touch regularly, and feel safe with each other.
Nelson isn’t the first to observe the importance of these three factors.
Psychologists have long known about the “mere exposure effect,” which explains why we tend to like people or things just because they’re familiar. So the more you hang out with someone, the more you’ll probably like the person.
Meanwhile, research from SUNY Stony Brook found that a bit of self-disclosure – i.e. talking about things that are meaningful to you and somewhat private, as opposed to regular old small talk – can make people feel closer.
People typically only spend time with other generations at work
Hitting all those markers is easier said than done. People are busy and fall out of touch; telling a relative acquaintance about your parents’ divorce can be difficult.
What’s more, people tend to spend more time with those who appear similar on the surface – i.e. are the same age. As Ellin writes for The Times, “millennials and baby boomers tend to stick with their same-aged cohort, rarely associating out of the office.”
Still, intergenerational friendships can be rewarding in their own way. On a Reddit thread about age differences in friendships,PM_ME_YOUR_BEARD_PLS mused, “It’s kind of funny how people are sometimes weirded out by a friendship with a large age difference, but not someone hanging out with much older relatives. My grandmas are my grandmas, but they are also my friends. So I don’t see how it is much different to me having a friendship with someone in their 60s or 70s or 80s.”
And one 60-year old writer who attends intergenerational retreats told The Times that she’s “blown away by [younger women’s] emotional skills and self-awareness.” She added, “Things I came to in my 40s and 50s, young women are coming to so much earlier. I find permission to be themselves and to be creative in them that just thrills me. I’m delighted by it.”