As a child making friends was a breeze, thanks to play dates and school. And in said early developmental years, sticking to one’s age bracket was not only natural but important, as you often needed allies in your very same boat as you navigated the rocky seas of adolescence. It’s typically not until the late teens and early 20s that one begins to make friends of different ages.
“I find the older we get, the less age matters,” says author and friendship expert Shasta Nelson. “We realize life stages matter more than age. We also get to a place where we discover [age] is actually an arbitrary commonality. Just because two people are 33 doesn’t mean they’re going through the same life stages or experiences.”
In fact, the benefits of having friends older or younger than you are substantial in that there’s much to be learned from both scenarios. For instance, having a friendship with someone who is older allows for a “window into a different life experience or state,” says Miriam Kirmayer, Montreal-based therapist and friendship researcher. “You’re able to see what might be coming up [...] and you can gain exposure to a more formative part of life.”
You also get someone to guide you a bit, says Nelson. “You get a mentor more than a competitor,” she explains. “We can glean from someone who’s been down the road we’re currently walking on and we take on a learning element.”
Such is the case for Nicky Deam, Contributing Style Director for The Zoe Report, whose best friend of six years, Sari Tuschman (brand director of AETHER Apparel, is some seven years older. "I constantly turn to her for career advice and she is always so insightful and practical," Deam explains. "She also has a level of quiet confidence that I aspire to; she really exemplifies the strong, smart, and well-rounded person I am always striving to be."
Tuschman has also influenced Deam's wanderlust, as her best friend is one of her favorite people to travel with. "We've been to Spain, Aspen, and Mexico together," says Deam. "She also got me into surfing. She makes me push myself."
As for friends who are younger, well, it often allows for you to do the guiding and helping yourself, says Kirmayer. Nelson adds that friends who are younger can often bring a renewed energy and vitality into your life. “I’ve heard women in their 70s say ‘I’m better with women in their 50s,’” she says. “People enjoy the ideation and idealism that can come [from younger friendships].”
For 33-year-old artist Shiloh Schneider, age was never even a consideration or thought when she first connected with her now best friend Kiley Ogle (who’s eight years her junior). “Kiley was really great to talk to and she has a laid back personality and is incredibly intelligent, so we just naturally got along,” says Schneider about their initial introduction. “I never thought about her age because she just seemed to have confidence in who she was and being herself around other people. I value people that are real and genuine.”
For costume designer Ogle, her relationship with Schneider "helps constantly educate and enlighten me to things that I have not yet experienced. In my opinion, being friends with people that aren't exactly the same as you in every aspect of life is key to becoming a well-rounded and understanding member of society as well as a good and valuable friend."
At the end of the day, age-gap friendships are really no different from any other type meaningful friendship (or relationship for that matter), as they all require the same upkeep and consideration to keep them going. “Communication is key for age-gap friendships,” says Kirmayer. “Make sure you are open about your different needs and schedules, as we’re not always aware of the limitations of our friends, particularly those in different life stages as us.”
Another “c” word is essential here: consistency. “In some cases, it might be more challenging to build or maintain momentum if life isn’t bringing you together naturally,” says Nelson.
For Ogle and Schneider, distance and life in general have definitely created reason for inconsistency, but the friends have made it work by prioritizing each other. "We've remained friends even through Shiloh living in San Diego for a year and me doing study abroad in Scotland," says Ogle. "Even when we're in different countries, the connection and friendship remains the same. We still talk all the time and when we get back in the same place, it's as if no time has passed."
According to Nelson, at the end of the day, time, enjoying each other, and feeling accepted and positive about the other is what’s most important in age-gap friendships. "You must appreciate what the other person brings to the table and verbally show gratitude for that person," she says. "Even if you’re celebrating different things, you must keep that same interest and joy in each other.”