THE BLOG
09/28/2015 09:38 am ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

Why Your Friends' Ages Matter More Than You Think

Image by Time Stops Photography via Getty Images

We've all heard the notion that choosing your friends carefully is important for your success and well being. But what if the age difference between you and them was just as significant as their personality? I'm not talking about friends that are one or two years older or younger. I'm talking about decades worth of an age gap. Why is this so important? Simply put, we should all have the opportunity to feel young when we are old, and old when we are young. That is the epitome of a full life.

Growing up, I always had older friends. Maybe it was my maturity, or maybe it was that I liked feeling like I was ahead of the curve. Like I was getting one over on life and its lessons. Probably a little of both. I'm sure many people can identify with that. But recently, after taking an inventory of my relationships, I realized for the first time, the ages of my friends are all over the map. And I've come to appreciate this diversity on a deep level, as each of their unique perspectives adds something meaningful to my life.

I just crossed over last month into the third decade of my life, which means that within the last two years I've started to notice the lens through which the world sees me change. I felt this shift once before when I graduated from precocious teenager with audacious dreams to an average twenty-something with an average job. But this shift is different because (hard swallow) I'm starting to be looked at as old.

My husband has a popular YouTube channel, and working within the realm of viral sensations you interact a lot with people who were playing at recess the first time they heard Taylor Swift. This can be a humbling experience, to say the least. But several of those new media rockstars have become friends. After they pick their jaw up off the floor when I tell them how old I am (because at 20, who can possibly comprehend life goes on after the clock strikes 30), they do a weird thing where a slight admiration sets in. They make me feel old a lot, yes, but they also make me feel accomplished and grateful. Being able to watch someone's life unfold from the other side of 20, from a more stable and secure place, is refreshing. I am happy to be the person with a little bit of experience under my belt for once. And for no other reason than to be able to pat their back and say, "you are doing great and you have plenty of time."

On the flip side of this (because what is life but a paradox), one of my dearest friends, who also happens to be a writer, is older than me. I swore I wouldn't say how old, but lets just say ABBA was the soundtrack to his youth and Barbara Streisand was the JLaw of his time. Our conversations are some of the most fascinating I have experienced. Because of his experience. My curiosity can be endless, and his knowledge often matches it precisely. I don't know how this makes him feel, but I love hearing stories of eras I don't remember and places I've never been. And in just the same way I have done with younger friends, he eases my angst with a pat on the back and a gentle reminder, "you have so much time." Just the other day during a text conversation he said "I didn't start traveling until I was 30." This was comforting, knowing there is still hope for me (and my passport).

As an incessant late bloomer, it can take me years to develop skills, have experiences, and learn concepts that some people seem to grasp early and without much effort. So to have an older friend tell me this is normal, well, the confidence that comes from that is invaluable.

The truth is, when we feel young, it's nice to have a conversation with someone younger, reminding us how far we've come. And that our experiences have value. And when we feel old, it's nice to be reminded that we still have so far to go. Long stretches of time to make mistakes, and fail, and fail again. During any given week we should feel old and young, all at once. Because it's only when we realize that time is on our side that we can make the most of it. And of ourselves.