Younger and Older -- Crossing Generations Builds Astonishing Friendships

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I went to a birthday party honoring a serious transition -- a landmark, and even for a successful young mother with three kids, it had an impact.  So what did her sweet husband do?  He made her a present, with the help of his 5 year old son.  I don't want to violate their privacy with a description; just know that it was something that only someone who knew her well, and loved her, could have given her.

It was quite moving to watch her open her gift; presented in the 12th year of their marriage.  I kept thinking that I was already married for three years when she was born; that their journey still has such a long way to go and that we had learned so much in the years still before them.

They're among our closest friends; we lived with them for months when our house was ruined by a contractor, talk about everything, have taken trips together.  (They called us "family without issues.")  She taught me how to keep kosher and gave me the courage to start cooking again after years.  They came all the way to San Francisco for our son's wedding. With an infant.

While we were living with them we met all their friends.  Who became our friends.  I'd guess that by now a good 70% of our friends are one side or the other of half our age.  In addition, right now my husband, at 62, goes to law school and I, at 63, have spent most of the past 15 year online, working on the Web, with and for people half my age.   Cross-generational friendships are a big part of our lives.

Most of the time I don't think about it.  Then we'll go out with older friends and there's far more talk of illnesses and hip replacements - and grandparenting -- as opposed to the toilet training, school choosing and child-rearing optimism of the folks we spend most of our time with.  It akes us appreciate them even more.

Once in a while, though, the reality of the differences that do exist emerges.  They're all celebrating 10th or 11th wedding anniversaries; we're a couple of years from our 40th.

We've been through chronic disease and heart disease, financial crisis and seven moves, two children, the loss of all four of our parents, extraordinary travel, deep friendships, huge lifestyle changes and daily complications.  Every one of them added a brick to the house.  Every child's birth, and birthday, and graduation and wedding; every torn knee, broken shoulder or opened heart -- all the things that make up a life -- they're what a marriage is made of.

Not very profound, but true.  The power of a shared history is the foundation - or at least a foundation, of a good marriage, and it gets stronger with every day.  It's the one thing I find hardest to explain to them.  They admire it - but sometimes they don't "get' it.

Even so, the difference between us, the fact that we are so much farther down the road than they are, is an asset, not a problem.  We give them a sense of hope - of the possibility that marriages - and lives - can survive pain and troubles and grief and illness and just plain time.  They help us remember where we've come from, sure, but also keep us grounded in the sense of lilfe's possibilities that we share.

It may be different for us; we've always been a bit odd - changing careers, moving, allowing our kids a freedom that horrified some but turned out remarkably self reliant and cool, engaged human beings, and, generally, acting anything but older. 

I don't think so though.  I think we're blessed with the opportunity to demonstrate all the gifts that close friends give one another when they come from different ends of the calendar - not just different ends of the country or the political spectrum.

Others find their own reasons.

Valerie Comer at Valerie Comer's Little Woods, says shared gardens and shared back yards can break down generational barriers that may not be as easily breached.

All the way in Australia, MamaMia describes the value of older friends as surrogate grandparents for children whose biological families live far away.  It's a function we often serve with our friends kids' so it was interesting to see how hard it is to consciously establish such a relationship.

I've written about this before myself - on my own blog, and here at BlogHer.  The comments were great. Listen to Deb Roby, whose own blog is called  A Stitch In Time : 

Years seem irrelevant.  Maybe because I make so many of my friends online first - but to me age seem irrelevant when choosing a friend.  I have close friends who are 30 years younger than I- and we often enjoy many more of the same things than my friends my age.

I welcome the experience of friendship in all it's shape and sizes.  It gives me a much fuller, richer experience.  I once believed that retiring to a "retirement community" would be ideal -now I know that I need a less homoginized circle around me.

So there you are. Crossing the web and thus crossing generations.  It's probably often true and yet another way that this mind-bending tool has given us better ways to know, and like, one another. 

Cynthia Samuels, Partner Cobblestone Associates, LLP Blog and Media Strategies and Content Development Online and on Television   Don’t Gel Too Soon   AND  Managing Editor, Causes, Care2.com

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