Ask a woman about her friends and we immediately imagine a group of same-age ladies — young or old — on a lunch date or gathering for book club. But are we really shortchanging ourselves by limiting our friendships to our same-age peers?
A friend is a friend
Friendships are important for women at any stage of life, and it's important to remind ourselves how much value and comfort can be found within a female friendship. But often, as our lives get busier and busier, we push aside friend time and focus on our families and jobs instead. Some of us even avoid same-sex friendship, citing adult "mean girls" or cliques as the reason. Lissa Rankin, M.D., is an OB-GYN, author and founder of Owning Pink Center, a women's health practice in Mill Valley, California. "If you're like me and many other women I've met, you may have experienced traumas at the hands of women in your younger life," she shares. "Perhaps your BFF broke your heart on the schoolyard, as mine did. Maybe the girl you trusted betrayed you. Perhaps women have been competitive or critical or cutting to you," she says.
"But it doesn't have to be this way," Rankin adds. "When you surround yourself with the sacred container of intimate friendships, you no longer have to navigate the challenges of being human alone. When you stumble, your girlfriends will catch you. When they stumble, you can return the favor." When we open ourselves to the possibilities of friendships outside our age group, we have the chance to make a difference in the lives of other women we may never have paid attention to before.
Finding new friends
While it can be difficult to find new friends — especially as our kids get older — making the effort is worth the reward. "Sometimes we make the mistake of looking for friends who are just like us along many variables," shares Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., freelance journalist, author and professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine. "We miss out on a lot of friendships that way. Being friends with someone older or younger has many benefits that are less likely when your friends are age peers," she adds.
Look around you, at the people and places you spend your time. That young barista who always gets your latte exactly right may have a hobby or interest that sparks a connection — and a conversation that could lead to friendship. "Often, young people bring more energy and enthusiasm to our relationships and help us feel a little younger," says Levine. What about the older lady who sits at the end of the pew each Sunday? "Relationships with older women allow us to look ahead and see how our friends successfully navigate life challenges that are age-related," says Levine.
Older women allow us to look ahead and see how our friends successfully navigate life challenges that are age-related.
So what do these friendships bring to our lives? "When we met, Stephanie was in her late 20s with three small kids," shares Sharon. "I was already in my 50s, with one kid out the door." They met through a Bunco group and hit it off immediately. "She brings a perspective to my life that my older friends have left behind — and an almost fierce need to be the best mom ever. I love listening to her talk about her kids, and talking her through the rough spots. She seems to appreciate my 'experience' although I work very hard to not sound like a know-it-all."
My personal story is of my friendship with Abby, who is about 12 years older than I am. When my kids were in elementary school, the library was my favorite place to volunteer. Abby was the librarian at the school, and through my volunteer gig I got the opportunity to get to know her as more than just the lady behind the desk. Her sense of humor meshed with mine, and her outlook on life and being a mom offered me a completely different perspective than that of my same-age friends. We share tales of our kids and husbands, and everyone else in between. I cherish the relationship we've built.
"She is everything I aim to be when I'm older. A great mom, energetic, fun-loving," shares Amanda about her friend Michelle who is 15 years older. "At first, I thought of her as not quite my mom, but like a treasured 'older sister' in a way. But over these past few years, I have come to rely on her friendship in a way that I never would have imagined. Some of my same-age friends may think it's odd, and I don't often combine them... but Michelle fills a gap in my adult life."
We all need a little more friendship in our lives, no matter what the age difference. If you allow yourself to be open to friends of a different feather you might just be surprised.