A 43-year-old client tells me, “I have become friends with a 26-year-old woman I met at my Pilates class. For the longest time I kept judging her, because she was constantly on the phone. Then some time ago, she asked me if I knew someone who could cook for her as she lives alone and hasn’t been able to find a good cook. The more I talked to her, I realised how judgmental I had been about her life assuming she has it easy. Yesterday she was going for a salsa trial class, and invited me to come with her. I felt so touched and realised how being around a person who’s young, filled with dreams and ambition is so energising and inspiring. I feel less jaded and bitter. I thought I never could be friends with someone who’s not my age and now this friendship is one of the highlights of 2023.”
Inter-generational friendships have a beauty of their own. At a time when we are working remotely and in hybrid ways, glued to our phones and devices, struggling with loneliness and finding community, inter-generational friendships feel like a breath of fresh air.
Very often I ask clients to mindfully work towards building and strengthening these friendships. For clients who are doing long-term therapy work, sometimes it’s part of their homework. Particularly when people are transitioning to a different city or country; going through changes such as marriage, motherhood, children moving out of homes; or experiencing grief.
These are times when we might not feel centered, and find no solace in friends, especially if they have not experienced something similar, or are developmentally at a different life stage.
A 30-year-old client mentioned that when she lost her mother, none of her friends could really understand, or be there in ways she needed them because they had not experienced parental grief, and it was her intergenerational friendships that helped her.
Cross-generational friendships have the power to provide us hope and help us feel anchored. However, I must say that I hear more women talk about the power of these friendships compared to men. Even in therapy, it is the female clients who talk about how at an exercise class, book club, or then in their own neighbourhood, they have forged these friendships. Having said that, no matter how and when these friendships are formed, they allow both younger and older folks a new lens of being.
I first experienced the power of these friendships in my youth. As an 18-year-old, I used to take the same train to college every day and in some months, I had a group with six women: two were the same age as I and three others were four, six, and 12 years older. At that time, it was hard for me to imagine what life after college would look like.
These friendships offered a place to laugh, spend time together, and also guidance and mentorship. It felt calming and stabilising and that’s when I realised how a sense of community brings such a feeling of belonging and being seen.
Clients say these friendships allow them to not get stuck in their own echo chambers, have openness in their hearts and perspective when it comes to the bigger picture. Our capacity for openness and perspective are qualities which are deeply associated with resilience.
Sometimes with friends who are the same age as us, we are guilty of social comparison and as a result, it leaves us feeling “not achieved or done enough”. But when we are around people who are younger or older, if we choose to be non-judgmental, there is an ease of being. I have always felt that these friendships allow me to understand better, how I want to live and what qualities I need to keep working towards.
My 43-year-old client ends the session by saying, “My friend from Pilates told me that she’s felt scared of growing old and now when she looks at me managing home and career, she feels lighter, and knows she’ll be fine. My self-esteem was at its lowest when she said this, and it helped me be kinder to myself.”
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.