The Value of Intergenerational Relationships

Becoming pals with someone outside your age group can offer rich rewards.

Carrie Hadler was at a party in her adopted city of New Orleans when she started chatting with another guest. It turned out they both had Midwestern roots, and after a long bonding session over ice hockey, the two struck up a friendship. Their attraction wasn’t romantic, but they had great friendship chemistry — and still do. “We go for bike rides — normal friend stuff,” says Hadler. Normal, except that Hadler is 28 and her friend is 50.

If you scroll through your contacts, you’ll probably discover that most of your friends are roughly your age. That’s natural enough — many of our close friendships are forged in places like college or birthing classes that attract similar age groups. It’s less common that people form genuine friendships that span a generation.

But intergenerational friendships offer unique benefits. If Hadler has a relationship problem, for example, she turns to her older friend. “He has a lot of perspectives that I don’t,” she says. “He understands that life evolves. When you’re my age, everything is a much bigger deal because you don’t have as much to look back on.”

This contrast in perspectives can work both ways. In her late 30s, Theresa Carey faced a career dilemma. She’d left her law practice to teach at-risk junior  high students, but a school reorganization soon put her back in the job market. It was a former student, 20 years younger, who gave her the courage to follow her passion for writing. “I wrote plays for the school,” says Carey, now 50. “I’d stayed in touch with a former student and he’s the one who said, ‘You’re so good at writing plays, why don’t you try that?’” His enthusiasm helped her believe in herself — and follow her dream.

“Younger people are still in the phase where they’re experimenting with life,” she says. “That’s contagious.” Today she’s completed several screenplays and won screenwriting competitions.

“There’s a beautiful reciprocity in these relationships,” says Izzrene S. Levine, creator of  author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend (Overlook Press, 2009). “Friendships with older folks help us see our own future and learn ways to enjoy the years that lie ahead. Younger people tend to have more energy, a sense of adventure and a greater willingness to try new things. Each friend can offer the other something different based on their station in life.”

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