The Joy & Benefits of Intergenerational Friendships

By Heather Sheridan  ●  August 5, 2023

I no sooner started writing this blog entry when The New York Times published a piece on The Joy of May-December Friendships. I have been thinking a lot recently about my friendships and how different they all are. I have two very close friends, still, from high school, but the vast majority of my friends are those I made along the way, mostly through work, and many of them are either years older than me or years younger than me. These unique and invaluable connections transcend generational boundaries. I love the intergenerational friendships I have developed over the decades.

Intergenerational friendships are relationships formed between individuals of different age groups and enrich our lives in ways we might not have realized–everything from contributing to our personal growth to sharing wisdom to having a deeper understanding of the world around us. They are a unique opportunity for learning and growth. Younger individuals may gain insights from the wisdom and experiences of their older friends, while the latter may embrace new perspectives and ideas. This exchange of knowledge nurtures personal development, as it encourages us to step outside our comfort zones and learn from one another’s life journeys.

It has probably helped that much of my adult life was spent outside the United States, working in international schools and living in communities where I had both the opportunity and the exposure to meet people from other parts of the world, born in different decades. At 28, living in Brussels, three of my four closest friends were my mother’s age. More than two decades later, I am still very good friends with these women and see them several times a year. We eat, drink, laugh and share, maintaining a bond that has provided me with emotional support and connection that I continue to value to this day.
Isolation and loneliness can affect people of all ages, but they tend to be more pronounced among the elderly.

Intergenerational friendships provide a remedy for this by creating opportunities for regular social interaction. Take my dear friend Pat. Now into her 80’s, my kids not only benefited from her math tutoring, but we also shared meals, food shopping excursions, great conversation and walks together until moving away from her last year. I believe connections like this not only alleviate feelings of loneliness, but they foster a sense of belonging and purpose for older individuals while broadening the social horizons of the younger generation.

In my experience, these friendships are often built around a common bond. My friend Sarah and I ran together every Sunday for years living in Brussels. Twenty years my junior, our common bond of running and work allowed us to come together to share our perspectives and viewpoints, not to mention common gripes about work. These experiences enhanced our empathy and understanding of each other and our life experiences. Friendships like this can help us challenge assumptions, encourage critical thinking and help us have a more open-minded and inclusive outlook on the world.

Intergenerational friendships offer a unique type of emotional support. While peers of the same age can relate to certain challenges, older friends bring decades of life experience to the table. They can provide valuable advice, lend a listening ear, and offer a sense of comfort that comes from knowing they’ve navigated similar situations themselves. One of my closest friends, Amy, who is 12 years younger than me, had her first baby two years ago on her own. I loved that I could be there for her, having raised three children of my own, to offer support, empathy and advice (when asked) as she navigated the challenges of single motherhood. Older friends can offer a wealth of practical insights, even take on a mentoring role which might help younger friends boost their confidence.

Intergenerational friendships challenge age-related stereotypes and biases. Such relationships remind us that age is just a number and that individual personalities, interests, and passions are what truly matter. By forming bonds with people of different generations, we contribute to a more inclusive society that values each person’s unique story. According to the Times article, “Intergenerational friendship enriches us and gives us a sense of connection that is life-affirming and energizing.” They also help us to diversify our perspectives, share wisdom and lead to genuine, lasting connections.