Being friends with older people

I’m not going to lie– I think it’s weird to hang out with a bunch of people exactly the same age as you all the time. And I think it’s weird because I didn’t have to do that. Most people think it’s normal. And they think it’s weird to hang out with people who aren’t exactly the same age as you. Especially if you’re a kid.

When I was sixteen, my circle of close friends included a woman in her fifties, a woman in her forties, a woman in her eighties, and a girl who was ten. It also included some sixteen and fifteen and seventeen-year-olds. It also included my brothers. But I was careful not to call the ten-year-old my “friend” in mixed company. Or the eighty-two-year-old. Because then I might have to explain my life to everyone. And that gets annoying.

(my youngest friend and I. I think she’s 13 or so here. Kaila– you owe me a guest post!)

And then sometimes I called them both my friends in public anyway, defiantly, just because I could. That’ll show them! That show the whole world. Yeah, I was a rebel.

I think it’s a little weird to hang out with people without getting to know their families. I mean, it’s fine and everything…But I’m going to want to meet your mom at some point.

My friends always came with their siblings. I was always friends with both sisters, and on good terms with the younger brothers. Often I was friends with the girl and one of my younger brothers was friends with the boy and we all hung out. Which is part of why no one could ever play spin-the-bottle, come to think of it.

I was friends with the moms. Some better than others. The dads and I got along.

But some of my closest older friends were from the writing group I joined when I was fifteen. We got together at the Arts’ Council and workshopped pieces every week. Which is why my name is in the acknowledgments section of a very successful book called Dough, written by a really sweet guy named Mort whose chapters I helped critique every week for years and years. (He didn’t mention me in the NPR interview, but I was very understanding about it.)

I was writing a dorky fantasy novel about a queen named Relle who is one of the most powerful mages in the world. She is not allowed to fall in love (it’s this big law in that place that has a lot of complicated explanations and a long history), but she does. And with a servant. Who is also a giant. Who is really, really cute. And then he gets kidnapped and she has to go rescue him. Very dramatic. Anyway, my fifty-year-old friends listened patiently to me reading all that aloud. And they told me I was great. And some of us started hanging out outside of class. And everyone assumed I was with my mom or my grandmother. But I wasn’t.

(me, at sixteen, dressing up as Relle, with a painting of her in the background. making a stronger case for homeschoolers being really weird.)

They were my friends. My good friends, who I confided in. Who I learned from. I wouldn’t have traded them for another fifteen or sixteen-year-old for anything. Not even a Tor book deal. Well, maybe that. But probably not.

Irene, who was the oldest of my friends, died a couple of years ago. It was terrible and strange. My friends aren’t supposed to be dying yet, right? She had the most amazing stories. Each of her children were born in a different country. Her husband had been a diplomat. He was assassinated in Lebanon. She barely avoided the explosion. It was something simple, like a forgotten purse. She wrote everything down. She hated water. She only wanted to drink things with flavor. She was a proud atheist, with a Jewish background. Her thick white hair stuck straight up, and she was fearless and awesome. Sometimes members of the Russian mob showed up at her house and she served them tea and they all just chilled.

It wasn’t a cliche– I loved to listen to her.

Who wouldn’t want a friend like that?

And all this is not to say that kids who go to school don’t ever make friends with people of different ages. But, too often, there just isn’t time. And it would be weird. Just like it’d be weird to hang out with your sibling at school. Especially if they’re younger. That would be weird.

So many of the good things in life are the things that a lot of normal people think are weird, I guess. Not pizza, though. We can pretty much all agree on pizza.

I wish we could all agree on Irene, too. Because she was worth it. And a few other kids probably could’ve benefited a lot from making a friend like her.

(she was always drinking iced tea. source)

P.S. The friends I make now tend to be older than me. Sometimes people tell me this is called “networking.” It works either way.

21 comments to Being friends with older people

  • mb

    yes!!! this is one of my biggest rants about why unschooling is so awesome. i was public schooled. at some point during college i looked around me, at all the other 20 year olds and went “ugh! can i get some real diversity?” it suddenly dawned on me, after all those years of it being supposedly normal to be around only peers, that it really would be possible to learn and grow so much more if i had people of all ages and walks and levels of life experience around me. how can anyone get any perspective while surrounded ONLY by people of their same age? i don’t know. awesome post. :)

  • Love this post!! At very-nearly-20, I think my youngest friends are 14 or 15, and my oldest are in their 50′s… My 17 year old sister is out tonight with friends who are in their 20′s. We both have friends who are significantly older than us, as well as having some younger friends (for some reason we seem to mostly have older ones).

    I find it such a weird idea that people should only hang out with people EXACTLY THEIR ON AGE, though. As in, REALLY weird! If you’re only willing to befriend people within a year or two of your own age, the amount of people you can laugh with, learn from, and just enjoy the company of, shrinks to such a narrow group. You miss out on so much richness in life that could be gained by spending time with people much further from your own age!

  • I can totally relate! Ten years ago when I was a college student with my rebellious pixie cut and pierced eyebrow, I attended a spiritual retreat for single people. The other participants were in their 30′s up through their 60′s, and we all clicked instantly.

    Like you, I love hearing older friends’ stories and wisdom. Here are 2 more things I LOVE about having older friends:

    (1) They are amazingly supportive listeners. They really hear me when I share anxieties, and because they’ve been there before, they can listen without judgment and really root for your success and happiness. Maybe it’s because they often see a little bit of their younger selves in me, and because they are protective like older siblings would be.

    (2) Most of my older friends not married. And because they live such full, adventurous, and compassionate lives, I feel inspired to design my own kick-butt lifestyle. The funny thing is that I feel more confident in my marriage because I am also confident that I would be equally as happy if I were a single person. (If that makes sense!)

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful post!

  • How awesome to have had Irene for a friend.

  • Great post! I have always had friends older than me since the age of 5. Now that I’m in my 30′s I have friends who are almost 70. I wouldn’t trade their friendship for the world and find their stories amazing and helpful to my life as well. You should never just limit yourself to friends your age. We can all learn from one another.

  • I was having a conversation about just this topic last night. My husband and I are in our late 30s. We recently met a new couple that we thought must be in our own age range. Then we discovered they were 10 years younger than us. My husband said, “When are we going to realize we aren’t teenagers anymore?”
    The funny thing is, when you don’t worry about the ages of your friends, it almost makes you timeless. I have many friends in many age groups. For me it’s more about finding the members of your own tribe.

    However, as a homeschooling parent, I have run into a few issues with my older son, who is 10. He can’t seem to find his tribe. He is a very advanced thinker, but still has immature characteristics that make it difficult for him to find the perfect fit. The older kids think he’s too quirky and the younger ones just don’t get him. He does well with most adults, but it’s hard to find an adult who wants a 10 year old friend. I’m hoping we will find a place he fits, outside of our own family. Your experiences give me hope that we’re on the right track. Even if he can’t find someone soon, I know a public school setting would never offer what he needs if he’d only be with his age mates.

    Thank you for your excellent insight!

    • Michelle…I *love* quirky and my tribe is very welcoming. Maybe your son should be my friend. I’m 46. When I grow up, I’m going to be an eccentric old lady. Quirky people already come to my house to visit for a much-needed escape from normal folk.

  • As a mom to 4 unschooled kids I love that they make friends with people of all ages who they have things in common with, not just kids their own age. Some friends are their age some are older and some are younger. I have friends who are older and younger as well.
    Love the insight.

  • I have always enjoyed the company of people all along the age continuum. You are a very wise young woman.

  • Beverly

    I was raised in a home that had very strict rules about things like the appropriate age and gender of friends, so I was 28 before my tribe found me. In twenty years or so when everyone who could be hurt by it is dead, I intend to write a nasty tell-all book about my experiences growing up in the all white, mostly Christian rural community where that sort of nonsense looks functional. Meanwhile, I applaude your fearlessness.

  • I have nothing to add – just that I love this post. I love to watch my daughter talk with little kids to grown adults as comfortably as if they were 14 like her. It continues to be one of the many blessings of homeschooling–she is free to develop relationships outside of a classroom of 20+ students.

  • love this Kate:
    So many of the good things in life are the things that a lot of normal people think are weird,..

    i don’t think i really started being me until i realized that. and decided weird was better than missing out on remarkable.

    i love the photo of you as Relle.

  • Cyllya

    This is awesome! It’s another reason I want to homeschool/unschool my kids.

    When I was a kid, my parents wouldn’t let me be friends with any body noticeably older than me. :( Mom does it with my adopted younger siblings too. And, of the older person, she says things like, “Why would a [X]-year-old want to hand out with a [Y]-year-old anyway?” like she was trying to imply that they were a child molester.

    If I remember right, old ladies were an exception.

  • [...] about sexuality. I became a teenager with a handful of good friends who were my age, surrounded by my much older friends, much younger friends, and my family. No one seemed to be thinking about sex a whole [...]

  • i had a thing happend that is based on this topic where a girl couldnt be my frind any more because of my age difforence to her. they saw the converstations. but they want her not to talk to me any more i feel like i am a pedifile but am NOT!!!!!! it just hurts and miss talking to her a lot… it happend not that long ago but i cant contact her and they dont want me to contact her eather… so i been a little down lately. i was seaching the sites and found this one talkingabout the basic simaler thing i went through like this user ~ cyllya said. but in this case i am the one who is the older friend. :”(

  • Hannah

    “So many of the good things in life are the things that a lot of normal people think are weird, I guess. Not pizza, though. We can pretty much all agree on pizza.”

    Pizza : yes
    Pizza toppings : maybe

  • Anonymous

    I can agree with you. Sadly,My parents will not let me hang out with my older friends. They overlook the fact I meet people from my older siblings or hobbies(like you did) who I will obviously befriend.Instead, they say comments like “why would they want to be with somebody your age”. But as I recall friends do not matter on age,gender,raise, religon,popularity, or intellect. A friend is somebody who will make you smile, laugh, and have a good time.

  • nadia

    you’re awesome!

  • Anonymous

    You sound like you have it perfectly, but what if the older person does not want to be seen with a younger person? She wants to go clubbing and the younger is not even allowed in or she has a boyfriend/husband, successful career and influential friends, whereas the younger one is still at school, with people her own age that she has not interest in. It is a two-way street and those of you who have these friends, treasure them because you are lucky to have them.

  • Tina

    I love this post.I used to feel weird too about having friends that had a big age difference. But then I realized how much more wonderful my life was because of them. My dearest friend is about 57 ( I am 20 ) and he loves me unconditionally and has helped me and supported me through everything. He is not a creep, as some ,mentioned.he is almost like a father figure.

  • Emma

    Wow! This was so written for me! See, I am a home schooler, but I have been wondering, Is it okay to have older and younger friends? Because, I do, (Some 10 yrs old, one 89) But when I first meet people older than me, I always think would they be okay with having a younger friend? It’s sort of a shyness thing I’ve had for ages, but reading this made me think. It is okay, it must be okay if they enhance your life so much, I guess the only problem is ME who is (as my mother loves to say) a worryier.

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