The Re-Emergence of Intergenerational Friendships.
Let's face it, we didn't structure society to connect with people from other generations. CoGenerate founder and co-CEO Marc Freedman, who is teaching at MEA this fall, calls it "age-apartheid." You go to school with people your age, work for forty years with people roughly your age, and then live in a retirement community or nursing home with people the same age.
Where are the daycare centers located next door to senior centers? How might we re-architect society to take us back to an era when three generations lived under the same roof and connecting with people of a different age was normal?
During some of my speeches, I often pose a favorite question to the audience: 'Consider your five closest friends outside of your family circle. How many of them are at least a decade older or younger than you?' Remarkably, in a consistent pattern, about 80% of people's closest friends are within a ten-year age range of their own.
All of this is a prelude to a beautiful article I recently read in the New York Times entitled "The Joy of May-December Friendship." It is a touching reminder that, beyond our diverse ages, we have much in common and much to learn from each other as humans. Here's a great quote from an 83-year-old who has become deep friends with her 42-year-old athletic trainer, "Here I am, a grandma, and here he is, a young man still single and trying to find himself, but we fell in love with so many of the same things."
Could this possibly be the antidote for social isolation? Might it hold the potential to address the housing crisis, with younger people renting from empty-nesters? Could such relationships create mutual mentorship, enabling generations to learn from one another?
However, before we can answer these questions, we need to consider the challenges that extend beyond “age apartheid.” According to a 2021 survey by the Survey Center on American Life, nearly one-third of seniors reported that they hadn’t formed a new friendship in the past five years. Unfortunately, our perceptions of other generations often harbor stereotypes that may discourage us from actively seeking friendships with those who are different in age.
What if you committed to cultivating a friendship with someone from a different generation within the next three months?