Be honest: how often have you made a new acquaintance but not even entertained the idea of becoming friends with them because there's such a big age gap between you? You may live on the same street, go to the same gym or volunteer for the same charity – but the fact that you were born a generation apart somehow stands in the way.
As we grow older, we may convince ourselves that younger people wouldn't want to spend time with us – and that we're both better off with people our own age. It's a hard habit to break, after all. We grow up making friends of a similar age – simply because they're the people we mix with at school. Work, travel and family life may broaden the range a little, but most of our closest friends are usually still pretty close to us in age.
And that's a real shame, says life coach Olga Levancuka, because making friends with someone younger can offer rich rewards for both parties. 'The beauty of having friends of different ages and from all walks of life is that they bring out different facets of yourself,' she explains. 'Become friends with someone with whom you wouldn't normally socialise and you may uncover a new aspect of your personality.'
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What challenges could you face?
Age-gap friendships aren't without their challenges, of course – and not just because your younger companion may look at you blankly when you mention 'old money' or the Bay City Rollers. Indeed, rather than feel younger, you may start to feel even older than you really are – particularly if you allow yourself to compare your fitness level or stamina to theirs.
The solution, of course, is not to make these unhelpful comparisons. 'Or if you really must compare yourself to your younger friends, just think of the life experience and skills you have over them,' suggests Levancuka. It's also important to ban certain phrases from your vocabulary. A couple of examples? 'When I was your age...' or 'In my day...' Remember, it's still your day – but if you spend it getting hung up on how old you are, you'll be wasting it.
Making friends with someone younger may also put pressure on your existing friendships. 'If you're the kind of person who likes a close-knit circle of confidantes, your new friendship can cause a certain amount of upheaval,' warns Levancuka.
Regardless of the age factor, though, you're faced with the same two choices you would be if you started spending time with anyone new. You can introduce your new friend to the group and do your utmost to ensure everyone gets along. Or you can keep the friendships separate. There's really no rule that says all your friends have to like one another. And let's face it: they rarely do!
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Does age really matter?
Different friends fulfil different needs, after all. 'Having younger friends can help you avoid a “midlife crisis” and make you feel more positive,' says Levancuka.
'Instead of listening to people your own age complaining about their regrets all the time, you can focus on trying out exciting stuff with younger friends who aren't so weighed down by life.' (A word to the wise, though: never be tempted to abandon your older friends completely. And don't tell them you prefer hanging out with younger people because they're more positive!)
Still doubt whether an age-gap friendship could work for you? 'It's time to stop and ask yourself why,' advises Levancuka. 'What's making you feel uncomfortable? What are you afraid of? You may well uncover some hidden anxieties that need to be properly addressed before you can concentrate on building any new friendships.'
Ultimately, we make friends with people because we like them. We have interests or experiences in common. They make us laugh. They make us feel special. And we should do the same for them. There's always room for more friends in our lives. So why allow a random factor like age to stand in the way?
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