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Years Apart, Close at Heart

Shira Yehudit Djalilmand

Most of us relate best to those around the same age and stage as we are. But once in a while, two individuals separated in age by decades develop a close relationship. These cross-generational friendships offer unique benefits — and challenges — on both sides.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

“Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”

 

This classic quote rings true for people in friendships that have crossed the lines of generations. Tight-knit bonds can spring up in the most surprising pairs or unexpected settings: a former student and teacher, a distant great-aunt and great-niece, or just someone you met at your exercise class. Age doesn’t have to be a barrier to forming a close and equal relationship; in fact, much like cheese, the age difference sometimes makes the relationship that much richer.

 

Cross Generation, Cross Culture

What is the bigger picture of cross-generational friendships? Are certain age combinations more or less common? Have these types of friendships become more or less common throughout the years — and if so, why? Are women more likely than men to form friendships with people from another generation?

Unfortunately, few reliable statistics are available on the types and nature of friendships between people of widely varying ages, says Jon F. Nussbaum, PhD, coauthor of the book Intergenerational Communication across the Life Span. Still, a little investigation gives a rather clearer picture. Such friendships seem to often sprout either in synagogue clubs or Christian groups. It seems reasonable to suggest that these groups, which emphasize religion, shared moral values, and family — all of which provide a strong basis for respect between the generations — encourage friendships among like-minded people, regardless of age.

Who you befriend depends on who you come in contact with. In many Western countries, social spaces tend to be generation specific. Outside of family, you’ll rarely find a 20-something having coffee with someone in their 70s. People of different ages tend to feel they have little in common — a recent survey in the British newspaper the Guardian (see sidebar) showed both younger and older people feel a disconnect between their generations.

In contrast, in Mediterranean countries such asCyprus,Portugal, and theMiddle East, people of all ages have more opportunity to meet socially. This may be a result of the more open, family-oriented culture in such countries, which creates an atmosphere of greater familiarity and respect between the generations.

 

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