Why Age Is Not A Barrier To Friendship

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." - Mark Twain

21/06/2017 10:06 BST | Updated 03/10/2017 11:31 BST

We all know that age ain’t nothing but a number. And a large age gap shouldn’t prevent us from finding that special friendship. 

This goes for relationships - hello, Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron! - as well as in the workplace. It’s also true of friendships: Elton John and Lady Gaga are BFF - she’s even godmother to his sons - despite the nearly 40 years between them. 

While we know, rationally, that age shouldn’t be a barrier to friendship, sometimes we do find it difficult to believe that we can share common ground with those who haven’t grown up with our shared experiences.

But, as Heineken discovered with their #OpenYourWorld campaign, there is often more that unites us than divides us.

“We tend to seek out people who we believe are similar to us - social status, experiences, looks, age,” says chartered psychologist and member of The British Psychological Society, Dr. Angharad Rudkin.

“When we put ourselves into situations where we are more likely to meet people of all sorts of ages, then these natural tendencies to only seek out similarity are not so much in play and we can end up developing great friendships with people of all different ages.

“Benefits of age-gap friendships include learning from one another’s experiences, developing empathy for people of different ages and possibly (though I’m not sure of the evidence for this) having a different perspective on life as a result of knowing someone older/younger well.

“Isolation is a crippling experience, and one which is more likely to happen in the older generation. Being connected and having meaningful relationships with others at any age is a protective factor,” she concludes.

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And it goes both ways, with younger friends getting plenty from the older ones, who can act like mentors and guides to them, giving them the benefit of their experience and wisdom.

“Friendships that span different stages of life can carry a special depth to them that friendships among peers cannot. Different generations bring different experiences and attitudes to the table, and they can open us up to new horizons and viewpoints on everything from technology and politics to hobbies and cultural trends,” says American clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior.

“Moreover, being in different life periods can save you from the rut of talking only about your daily grind. Instead of commiserating via small talk about dating or parenting a toddler, for instance, you have room to connect about things that allow you to step out of the box that usually get stuck in because of your demographic.

“Cross-generational friendships allow us to be ourselves without as many expectations of what our lives are ‘supposed’ to be focused on at any given stage, and they can be among the most meaningful and cherished of relationships.”

As we get older and there are more and more demands placed on our work, family and social lives, we often don’t get to see our best friends from uni or the close friends we grew up with (especially true when we move away from them, or they go abroad to explore the world). So we strike up friendships with people we see most often: our work colleagues, the hairdresser we love to have a natter with every month. When we find we have things in common with them, age doesn’t even come into play.

Jeff, 35, says, “I became friends with Allison, 43, and Tim, 70, through a weekly volunteer group. It was easy to bond with them, because we have to work as a team on a weekly basis. The atmosphere at volunteering is always fun so we started bonding over our mutual love of the movies, music, and travelling.

“We now spend time together outside of volunteering. Age has never been a factor in our friendship, but it is always interesting when we discuss our childhoods and the many differences that surrounded us based on the generations that we grew up in.”

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Karen, 49, and Taffy, 29, are friends who met through their work as nannies - and their friendship has blossomed over the years.

“We met through work a few years ago and in the last year we have become a lot closer,” says Taffy.

“I find myself at times having to remind myself that there is a big age difference as we get along so well and have a lot in common. I enjoy getting advice from Karen as she has seen it all in her crazy, fun-filled life so far.”

“We often speak about life in general and she asks for advice about certain life challenges and I guess that is where the age difference helps,” Karen explains.

“Equally, as Taffy is from South Africa, we have both had very different childhoods and life experiences so I also love to hear about her life. We have become extremely close friends in and out of our work environment.”

Sometimes, your life circumstances make you more comfortable having friends of different ages. 

Sam, 22, has numerous friends in their early-mid thirties and forties. He says: “Age need not be a barrier to friendship. Common interests and getting on are all that are important. I’ve made solid and long-lasting friendships with people 10 years older than me, and one with a bloke over 30 years older. Laughing, taking the piss and arguing over the minutiae of whatever it is you’re interested in don’t only exist among young people.

“People who aren’t in their twenties aren’t a different species. Most things stay the same forever!”

Pauline, 34, who also comes from a large family has close friends on either side of the age-gap spectrum, like Juliette, who is 24, and Véronique, 62.

“I would accept advice from an older friend as life is a matter of experience and hearing what they’ve done helps with making the right choices. I would probably give advice myself to a younger friend who is questioning herself on choices I have had to make in the past,” says Pauline. 

“But I think that at some point different ages in a friendship don’t matter any more. Maybe at the beginning you might either feel like the baby that has a lot to learn and needs to prove herself, or on the other hand, like the one that has to set the example and be wise, but if people are true friends, soon enough you won’t make a difference and all those prejudices and fears will fade.

For Pauline, this is the true power of friendship, when you cross the line that lets you see beyond what the other person looks like, can achieve or has done in their lives, instead seeing them for what they are: the person that you love.

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Tom, 35, has met many of his older friends, like Alan, 70, through his job.

“We work in the same industry and his comments on trends in that industry are also very interesting. He has the wisdom from having seen it over the long run.”

Tom also enjoys spending time with Alan for his amiability, intelligence and good humour, as well as his experiences.

“Alan has had a fascinating life, knowing some of the most famous people of our era. He also knew people I know as elder figures of great respectability when they were young and foolish and his comments on their affairs are fascinating gossip.”

Age-gap friendships are great - and nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the toughest thing about them is dealing with other people’s reactions. 

“People will always comment on age-gap friendships so develop a pat phrase response to any comments, and otherwise enjoy the richness of friendships across ages,” advises Dr. Rudkin.

Is there more that unites us than divides us? See how Heineken are striving to show we can all find common ground.