My best friend Michelle is the kind of person who is friends with literally everybody. She travels the world, frequently moves short and longterm, and I can’t remember a time where she has ever told me that she feels absent of meaningful connections wherever she goes. Apart from being exceptionally charismatic and open-minded of everyone she meets, the friendships she makes often surpass the barrier of age.
Many years ago while visiting her in South Carolina, we went for a walk on a woodsy path in Columbia. An older man stopped to talk with us about the weather and the beauty of the day. Michelle engaged with him immediately, while my Northeastern instincts that did not understand Southern hospitality eyed him suspiciously and planned an escape route, certain that this scenario was headed for an episode of Dateline. After he left without even attempting to murder us, I remember Michelle laughing about my reaction to the simplest of conversations with a stranger, something she was used to and something I was clearly not.
We were only in Columbia to meet with her former Spanish professor, a middle-aged woman who she had kept in touch with over the years. Michelle told me about the many conversations they had during her time as a student that fostered a genuine friendship. I had never spent much time with older people outside of family members and family friends, and I was a little bit nervous that I would need to alter my personality or act like someone other than my 22-year-old self.
We spent the evening eating at a Mexican restaurant, talking and laughing like we always would. The only nerve-wracking part of the night was practicing Spanish for most of the conversation in front of a tenured professional. We even ended up spending the night at her professor’s house, a gracious gesture so that we could all share some margaritas — at her professor’s suggestion — and not worry about driving back to Greenville. Her professor was incredibly funny, kind, and fun to be around. She was the kind of person who made a great mentor and a great friend, and yet I likely would have been too intimidated to befriend her if I had been in Michelle’s position.
Since then, I embraced the idea of befriending people older than me, and have been gifted with some beautiful friendships. And I do understand that I am speaking in generalizations, and the friends I have made are unique people who happen to align primarily with my unique interests, as well. But in my mind, here are a few reasons why making friends with people older than you is beneficial:
They value a good connection.
Age is definitely just a number when it comes to friendship. People who consistently show up for you, support you, and make you feel cared for are central to our lives no matter their age. They have met a lot of people and can easily spot a person they want to spend time with. Younger people are still exploring who they are and what they want out of life, often seeking quantity of peers over quality. As someone who has always naturally gravitated towards enjoying a smaller and closer group of friends over larger and more impersonal gatherings, it can be really nice to spend time with people who are more settled in their lives and value the importance of maintaining a solid friendship. I enjoy keeping a small circle of trusted friends, and it seems like my older friends often value strong bonds as well.
Their advice is often better than my peers’.
My older friends tend to have more lived experience and more perspective. They have navigated more complex and complicated situations. They tend to have more empathy and their advice, in all honestly, for all of those reasons just tends to be better. I also tend to befriend older people with similar interests to me, like travel, activism, running, in the spheres where I hang out. These people tend to have more experience in these areas, too, and can offer great advice when needed. Overall, they also tend to be kinder and more gracious in offering advice than the sometimes harsh advice that can come from peers. And sometimes, they are just easily able to snap me out of a downward spiral of overthinking by bringing me back to the most obvious of answers, because their perspective is less clouded but their knowledge is vast.
They have amazing life experiences and stories to share.
A lot of people have great experiences and stories to share, but people who have lived longer and had more opportunities to generate experiences often have the best ones. Additionally, they can offer extremely interesting perspectives in terms of culture and generations. One of my favorite professors and his wife (who I used to house and pet sit for) and who have been kind enough to share dinner with me on multiple occasions have shared with me phenomenal stories that I have absolutely loved hearing about. They can talk about being arrested in Peru for calling out corrupt police, giving birth in Mexico during field research decades ago, and researching music in Argentina. They have unique historical political perspectives to teach about just by storytelling.
They have varied networks that they happily connect you with.
Just like a few friends my own age enjoy networking and sharing those networks when helpful, older friends are quick to offer help, connection, and professional guidance. This is particularly helpful, because they tend to know more people and have more extensive networks. They also do not feel that they’re in competition with their younger friends, and more willingly and openheartedly share those connections. The nice thing about my older friends, too, is that they are constantly reminding me that I don’t need to have my life completely figured out. They share their own winding paths to where they are now and laugh about missteps they’ve learned from. It’s comforting, especially as a person who literally planned my entire 20s, executed all of those plans, and then suddenly felt lost after turning 30. They show you what is possible to do with your life and they help you meet those goals.
Sometimes they have really cool kids.
A dear friend I met in the past few years has amazingly compassionate, empathetic, courageous daughters that give me hope for future generations. They radiate goodness and compassion like I have never seen. They’re amazingly smart, emotionally intelligent, and socially aware. They give me so much hope for what our future world will look like. Plus, they’re hilarious, witty, and fun to share a meal with. Maybe they’ll be the people I get to bring out to dinner and surround myself with youthful energy one day- assuming I ever do actually figure out where life is taking me, and assuming that place is successful.
A good friend is a good friend.
The more I have lived, traveled, moved, started over, and continued to build my life, the more I have found that the relationships we choose to develop and keep are everything. The social networks we build help to shape who we are. A varied network of people from all ages, backgrounds, and life experiences is enriching and has added so much value to my life. Michelle always seemed to intuitively know this, but it wasn’t in my perspective to understand this until later in life. And not every older person who befriends you has good intentions- are there creeps and weirdos sometimes, predominantly of the opposite sex? Yes, 100%. But overall, the lunch meet ups and dinner apps and wine and evening conversations I’ve spent laughing and sharing stories with my older friends have left me with positive memories and new, worthwhile experiences to look forward to with people who I no longer see as ‘older’- just as friends.