In Praise Of Having Friends Of Different Ages
The Debrief: Why it rocks to have friends of all ages
Illustration by Marina Esmeraldo
A few months ago, two different mates had birthday parties on the same night. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence - honestly, some years it feels like everyone is having a bloody birthday - but one was a big 30th celebration, and the other was a bash for a pal’s 50th. I thought they might be a reflection of the different priorities and perspectives of the two generations, but they were very similar. Same drinks, same topics of conversation, same number of people wearing Converse. The music at the 50th was a bit cooler, and the cheeseboard selection at the 30th was a bit bigger, but other than that they were just lots of fun.
At school and uni, most of my mates were my age, give or take a year. Now, thanks to work and the internet, I now have pals of all demographics and it’s brilliant. If all my friends were the same age as me, I would be very bored, and constantly at brunch. But having a mix of older and younger chums is educational and life enhancing. Here’s why it rocks to have friends of all ages.
I can’t stress this enough - do not make friends with teenagers in a creepy way. We live in an era when it’s not really on to pitch up at your local park with three litres of White Lightening, murmuring ‘Alright lads! Who’s for some life advice?’ But if you have younger siblings or cousins, and they have mates, there is much to be gained from keeping a kindly eye on them, and soothing their adolescent woes with your own tales of dumping, drug disasters and That Time The Condom Broke On Boxing Day And You Ended Up Trekking 12 Miles To A Chemist For The Morning After Pill And Had To Pretend You Got Lost On Your Walk.
Also, if I didn’t have any young pals I would become a prematurely middle aged idiot who only knew about songs when they had been featured on M&S adverts, and did a terror poo every time I logged onto ASOS because ‘everything’s neon’. Teenagers are always the savviest, smartest and quickest to know about exciting things. I bought the Shamir album after reading about it in the New Yorker, and my littlest sister said ‘I’ve been telling you to listen to him for, like two years. God, you’re so slow.’
Why do you need friends in your twenties when you are in your twenties? Firstly, you probably already have some, so it’s a nice easy win to tick off the list. It’s also a great time to see difference in action. You grow up, hopefully knowing on some level that we are not all the same, and diversity is wonderful. But most of us are surrounded by people who are, broadly, similar. We go to the same schools, our lives follow the same structures, we know each other’s mums. By 25, you might have moved a hundred thousand miles away, or tried a few different jobs, or have a degree, or kids.
Invariably you will keep comparing and contrasting, and wondering why your primary school bff has just met the love of her life when you’ve just had drunk sex with someone off Tinder who doesn’t own a toothbrush, or how your best uni mate’s little sister can earn forty grand a year when you’ve just made a pre payday dinner out of rice and marmite. But then something clicks and you realise that you’re not on the same path any more. You can love someone, and grow up with them, and end up with a life that is wholly different to theirs. It’s something to celebrate. It doesn’t matter if they’re a well paid medical intern and you’re an unpaid magazine intern - as long as you’re doing what’s right for you. You’ll learn more from your twenties friends, and like them more, as soon as you start to enjoy the differences.
In my very early twenties, I thought that everything, life wise, had to be sorted by 30, and the pressure was on. Then I met some wonderful women in their 30s who were not yet CEOs with perfect, Instagrammable families - but they loved their lives more than ever, and were feeling confident in all areas. Thirty somethings are life affirming. They’re close enough to their own twenties to connect with yours and reassure you that it’s not just you, it’s a bit of a shit time for everyone. But they are living proof that you will eventually make a bit more money and live in a slightly nicer flat - and you’ll grow the balls to spot the stuff that sucks at your confidence and shake it off.
My boyfriend is in his forties, and he is very wise. At first I thought he might be some kind of sage or wizard, but after co-opting his pals for my own purposes, I realised it’s a state of grace that comes with advancing age. Once you’ve reached your 40s, you have seen things. You’ve made serious mistakes at work, got things wrong in relationships. You’ve coped with major family issues, illness, divorce and death. You’ve made friendships last for decades. You might know how to grout a bathroom. When I met my boyfriend, aged 27, he was able to show me (in the sweetest and kindest way possible) that I was wasting a lot of worrying time on some inconsequential stuff. Your friends in your 40s will show you how to stop spunking all your energy on ‘what if’, because they know that only five per cent of your fears will come true, and 100 per cent of those are somehow survivable.
Pretty much everyone I know in their fifties is having a very nice time. My parents and their friends are surrounded by grown up family, and having spent a lot of their lives looking forward and worrying about our first steps, baby teeth, driving tests and A levels, they are learning to live in the moment (and usually toasting it with a decent single malt).
If you want to see zen in action, go on holiday with a load of people in their fifties and sixties. These are people who have been on crappy Teletext coach tours, sweated in sticky static caravans, forced furious children up ‘educational’ mountains and into chilly, dusty cathedrals. They have learned that no good can come from excessive compromise, and it’s better to quietly do what you like instead of resentfully doing what everyone else likes. They know that if there’s a whiff of a possibility of an argument about driving it’s always better to chuck money at taxis. They will lend you their fancy sunscreen to protect your lovely young face (‘If I have one regret about my twenties, darling, it’s doing all that sunbathing in cooking oil’) and they’re not too old for Cards Against Humanity. Basically, they’re good fun and full of excellent life advice, but they’ll only volunteer it if you ask for it.
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Illustration by Marina Esmeraldo
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