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Embrace the Special Value of Intergenerational Friendships

For these three sets of pals, age is just a number​

spinner image friends elizabeth and jessie riding horses
Friends Jessie Lunsford, 32 (left), and Elizabeth Richardson, 68, bonded over a love of horses.
Mike Belleme

Friendships are often based on common interests and life experiences, which might mean that most of your friends are around the same age (or at least from the same generation). But spending time with friends from different generations can have big benefits.​ ​

Learning opportunities and fresh perspectives are just a few of the gains to be had. Thirty-seven percent of adults have at least one intergenerational friendship with someone who is 15 years older (or 15 years younger), according to a 2019 AARP survey. Younger adults said they were often inspired by older friends, whom they viewed as role models. ​ ​

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But older adults are less likely to develop new friendships. A 2021 study by the AEI Survey Center on American Life found that just 41 percent of those over 65 had made a new friend in the past year and almost one-third hadn’t made a new friend in at least five years.​ ​

Laura Whitney Sniderman, founder and CEO of the digital friendship app Kinnd, believes intergenerational friendships could be the answer, noting that everyone, regardless of age, seeks companionship and emotional support.​ ​

“Intergenerational friendships are special because they offer opportunities for sharing and learning,” she adds. “It is incredibly important for wisdom to be shared across generations as there is so much to be gained from everyone’s unique lived experience.”​ ​

The most important elements of a true friendship — common values, mutual respect, vulnerability and deep affection — transcend age. ​ ​

“Essentially both people in the friendship should feel accepted for who they really are, that they matter to each other and want to contribute to each other’s lives and [are willing to] put energy into maintaining the friendship,” Sniderman adds.​ ​

To find friends of different ages, seek out cultural and arts events, community service projects, educational classes and workshops that bring different generations together. The AARP survey found that 26 percent of intergenerational friendships started at work, and almost half of these close bonds lasted at least 10 years. One in five lasted for more than two decades. ​ ​

We talked to three sets of intergenerational friends who learned that when it comes to connection, age doesn’t matter.​

spinner image friends elizabeth and jessie on elizabeth's farm taking care of horses
Lunsford (left) and Richardson spend time together at Richardson’s farm.
Mike Belleme

​Elizabeth Richardson, 68, and Jessie Lunsford, 32​ ​

Not long after Elizabeth Richardson purchased a farm in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, she saw Jessie Lunsford riding a stallion down the road.​ ​

“She had a ready smile and moved with ease, and I admired that about her,” Richardson recalls.​

During the 2012 encounter, Richardson learned that Lunsford leased a neighboring horse farm where she offered riding lessons and horse boarding. The pair kept in touch; Richardson purchased eggs and hens from Lunsford, and in 2019, five years after their initial encounter, Richardson started taking horseback riding lessons; Lunsford was her instructor. Their connection was immediate.​

“We’d have these long conversations, sometimes about something that’s bothering us or something that brings us great joy,” Richardson says. “We discovered that we enjoyed each other’s company and the friendship unfolded.”​

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Their friendship deepened when Richardson purchased a mare named Goldie and started boarding her at the barn and visiting daily.​

“I appreciate her life experience, and it’s nice to have a friend who has done so much,” says Lunsford. “But in all of the time we’ve spent together, I don’t think age has ever come up between us.”​

A mutual love of horses was the initial connection, but the women discovered that they had a lot more in common despite their 36-year age difference.​

“Jessie is nonjudgmental, trustworthy and fun to be with, [and] it doesn’t matter that I’m old enough to be her mother,” says Richardson. “The qualities of a true friend aren’t bound by age.”​

spinner image friends don and carey meeting up for brunch in chicago
Don Washington (left) and Carey McComas share a sense of humor and love of adventure.
Tim Klein

Don Washington, 53, and Carey McComas, 31

A mutual friend introduced Don Washington and Carey McComas five years ago. Despite their age difference and diverse careers (Washington works at a nonprofit housing initiative in Chicago and McComas was a flight attendant), the pair shared a similar sense of humor and “an appreciation for the absurd,” which led to an instant friendship. ​

“[Carey’s] capacity to find the odd, interesting thing is cool,” Washington says.​

Their communication includes a near-constant exchange of text messages with animal cartoons and memes and music mash-ups from obscure bands. Frequently, their plans for a quick get-together over lunch lead to daylong adventures and rapid-fire conversation.​

“We’ve had different experiences, but we’ve taken the same things from them: Love overcomes everything, and friendship is really important,” says McComas. “When we share things we like with each other, we feel seen and understood.”​

Their generational differences often come to light: Washington doesn’t understand McComas’ willingness to share everything from photos to location settings on social media, and McComas had to explain that “Don’t be jelly” meant “Don’t be jealous.” A desire to bridge the divide makes their friendship strong.​

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McComas introduced Washington to anime, and knowing he would never download an app to read the latest releases from their favorite creator, she ordered the print versions and delivers them to his house. ​

“She’s an amazing human,” Washington says. “My life is better for knowing her.”

spinner image friends kim frisella and mariarosa in mariarosas kitchen
Mariarosa Clausen, (left) and Kim Frisella felt a kinship despite their age difference.
Preston Gannaway

Mariarosa Clausen, 93, and Kim Frisella, 51

Mariarosa Clausen needed help with errands, rides to medical appointments and companionship. In 2021, her daughter posted on NextDoor looking for a “senior helper” in her Sacramento neighborhood. Kim Frisella responded.​

Frisella, who experiences depression and took medical retirement from a state-run call center, was looking for companionship and a chance to give back, not a job. ​

“In the beginning, I wasn’t expecting to find a friend,” Clausen says. ​

But Clausen, who grew up in Europe during World War II and had “traveled a lot and seen a lot of things,” felt a kinship with Frisella, who talked about her experiences volunteering with the Peace Corps and traveling to Guatemala. ​

Instead of spending a few hours a week tackling a to-do list, Clausen and Frisella see each other often. In addition to running errands, the pair go to lunch, bake cookies, attend tamale-making classes and take mini road trips to points of interest near their Sacramento homes.​

Frisella recently called Clausen her “bestie” — and then had to explain what the term meant.​

“It’s not always sunshine and smiles,” Frisella says. “We’ve had some sad days, but we go through those together.”​

Although they are from different generations and different cultures and have different tastes in everything from music and books to food, they appreciate the other’s perspective and enjoy spending time together. ​

“There are some things we don’t agree on, but that’s OK,” Clausen says. “True friends don’t come easy and when you find them, you have to keep them.”​

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