"You may find this strange, Kristen," said a woman named Hayley during a Q&A period following my seminar on (Girl)Friendships, "but I have no friends my own age." She went on to say that she was sixty years old and that her best friend was forty-five. The only friend in her life who was in any way close to her own age was fifty-one. Most of her friends had not yet hit the fifty mark.
"Still we enjoy each other's company, we have fun together, and none of us ever see the age difference. I mean, I am fifteen years older than my best friend Kelly, yet we have so much in common with our lifestyles and careers. Is this odd?"
Having my own age-diverse group of friends, female as well as male, I don't find it strange or odd at all. Friendship isn't necessarily age-specific for women anymore. The old idea that you were only close with women with whom you had something in common age-wise no longer holds true. You are as likely to have common ground with a thirty-year-old as a fifty-year-old person in terms of lifestyle, a new career, or pastime. The notion that we need to be classified by age is as passé as the Victorian bustle.
Over fifty years ago, women had no choice but to be classified into groups by age. You had children in your twenties so you hung out with young mothers. Those same women had college-age kids when they were in their forties, as did you, and you were part of a group of "middle-agers." You cut your hair short because that was considered proper for anyone over thirty-five. Your mature wardrobe defined and segregated you from younger women.
When you entered menopause you became a member of club that basically had the words "Don't Tell" as its club motto. Sex became uncomfortable. You whispered your symptoms to other older women. If you did have sex and got pregnant, your friends and doctors called the occurrence a "change-of-life" baby, which often was a cause for embarrassment.
After your children married and had children of their own, you were relegated to grandparenthood and looming senior citizenry. No one, it seemed, broke out of the mold except certain rebel women, and they were unjustly seen as "odd or unwomanly." Your entire life was dictated by what was "right" for your age. If you were friends with someone older or younger it was seen as a serious mentoring factor and not as friendship for fun. Your life stages were strictly stereotyped.
But to paraphrase Bob Dylan, "The times (and ideas) have been a'changin' for quite some time.
Though we still have a lot of work to do to revise society's attitudes about getting older, quite a lot has already changed as far as some idea of aging goes. Women are having babies in their forties and changing careers in their fifties. An eighteen-year-old college student in an advanced web design class may well find herself seated next to a grandmother who's looking to make a career shift.
Going out for drinks after work, you'll find women from their twenties to their sixties in one happy group. Shared interests, careers, charitable activities show women of various ages working and socializing together.
Lifestyle changes have been made that preclude older women from being pigeon-holed into age-appropriate sects. Exercise, health-consciousness, and mental attitudes about who we are and what we can become have made the aging woman a different species all-together. No one takes seriously the stereotype of what a woman of a certain age should look like or be. Long, healthy hair looks as good on an older woman as on anyone younger. A short skirt looks good on anyone with shapely legs. If you have the body for it, wear that bikini; Helen Mirren, sixty-four, did. Reinventing yourself more than once is happening more and more.
Sexuality is out in the open as well. Your sexual appetite didn't stop with menopause as women were once told it would. Yes, this formerly taboo subject is easily and publicly discussed, as well as ways to make sex comfortable and exciting. We're a bit behind the European communities in this respect. Europeans always accepted the fact that sex was a natural part of life, that parents, as well as grandparents, were indeed enjoying each other, as was their right. Women here need to catch up.
And friendships bloom and thrive between women of different ages. There is some truth that friendship does indeed need a common ground, though that common ground is no longer classified by age-related positions in life. We meet at yoga, ballet, and film-editing classes, art exhibits, tech seminars, scuba-diving vacations, theatre groups and wine-tasting festivals. We're runners, philanthropists, graphic designers, educators and students.
We share our wealth of knowledge but we also learn from others. If older women mentor at all, it's more in the way we live their lives, as examples of healthy, happy change and reinvention. A positive conviction that life is to be lived on our own terms.
It isn't uncommon for women to have friends of all ages, to share ideas and interests, and enjoy the special female bond. Age-specific lifestyles are part of a bygone era. The only relationships that matter are ones that enhance you and make you happy to be part of them. Age has nothing to do with it.
© 2011 Kristen Houghton
To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at KristenHoughton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the book critics call "sane and savvy advice for all a must-read", ranked in the top-selling 100 books of 2011 by Tower.com "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First."