7 ways to make younger friends in retirement

Opportunities for young and old to meet in the right settings and to get to know one another in a casual atmosphere can be rare (Photo: iStock)
Opportunities for young and old to meet in the right settings and to get to know one another in a casual atmosphere can be rare (Photo: iStock)


Intergenerational friendships can be powerful. The trick is starting them

Longtime friends and creative collaborators Josleen Wilson and Brittany Barker share the same birthday—54 years apart.

Ms. Wilson, 83 years old, and Ms. Barker, 29, became friends through a writing-mentorship program nearly a decade and a half ago. Now, not a week goes by without their chatting, the two say, and they share meals at least once a month, typically at Ms. Wilson’s New York City apartment.

As for Ms. Barker, she credits her friend with helping to inspire her to launch a blossoming career as the creator and director of an arts workshop for youth that focuses on social justice.

Such can be the power of intergenerational friendships. For the older companion, having younger friends opens new doors and brings fresh perspectives. In more practical terms, it can provide opportunities to share fun activities, such as biking and hiking, hobbies that contemporaries who are also of a certain age might be less likely to enjoy.

“Many older people like to pass the knowledge and wisdom that they have acquired during their lives, and at the same time they also enjoy staying current," says Thomas Gill, professor of geriatric medicine at Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Program on Aging.

Such friendship also often cross cultural divides, offering growth opportunities to both friends, says Marci Alboher, author of “The Encore Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life."

Still, finding younger friends can be difficult. Opportunities for young and old to meet in the right settings and to get to know one another in a casual atmosphere can be rare. It requires planning and effort.

With that in mind, here are some ways that people can bridge the age gap and make new friends:

Meet the co-workers

Patty David, director of consumer insights, personal fulfillment at AARP, suggests starting before you retire, by getting to know younger colleagues at work. Co-workers interact daily, forming bonds based on similar topics and values. More than a quarter of intergenerational friendships begin in the work setting, according to an AARP survey.

One of Ms. David’s colleagues met her now good friend in the workplace back in 2012, though they have an age difference of 20-plus years. At first, she was nervous and intimidated, Ms. David says, but the two ended up volunteering together through work in a soup kitchen, and kept running into one another at the office gym. Then they started going to exercise classes outside of work together. Post-workout drinks and food naturally followed, and from there all kinds of outings, like concerts, comedy shows and basketball games. They spend time with each other’s families, as well.

Be a mentor

Mentoring programs are available at many companies, and outside the workplace as well. Ms. Wilson, a retired writer with 30 nonfiction titles, met Ms. Barker through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit that connects adult mentors with teenage girls from underserved communities enrolled in New York City public schools.

Ms. Barker credits Ms. Wilson with helping her find the courage to obtain a writing fellowship, write and perform in a one-woman show and, more recently, help establish Creative Soul House, a group that among other things provides enrichment opportunities in creative arts for underprivileged children.

Ms. Wilson, for her part, says of her younger friend, "What I get from Brittany is her life experience as she is living it. To be privy to that and to watch her grow into herself is amazing."

Check the neighborhood

Sometimes friends from different generations live in the same neighborhood, or used to. An especially fertile area: young adults who were your children’s friends.

Chip Conley, author of “Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder," says he knows an older woman, a former Girl Scout den mother, who became good friends with one of the former girls in her troop. “It was the shared common history that allowed the friendship to grow," says Mr. Conley, who also is founder and CEO of the Modern Elder Academy, in El Pescadero, Mexico, a school that focuses on helping people navigate life in mid to later years.

Start a breakfast club

Once a month, invite a couple of people your age and a couple who are younger to a coffee shop or diner, says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness: An Optimist’s Guide to Connection." Food is a wonderful way to bring people together across generations, he says, and inviting five or six people, as opposed to just one, keeps the conversation interesting. To make it even more intentional, try suggesting conversation topics for each meeting, he says.

Take a class

Classes can help form friendships because they tend to be ongoing, Mr. Poswolsky says. You might work on a project together, which could require meeting more often. Learning environments tend to bring together people who are open, curious and ready to try new things, he says.

Get matched

There are many nonprofits for helping people form intergenerational friendships. Big & Mini, for instance, links college-age students with retirees for growth and friendships. Co-founder Aditi Merchant, a student at the University of Texas, says she used to do volunteer work helping senior shut-ins and thought that her peers could benefit from having relationships with older people, too.

Big & Mini, which she co-founded two years ago during the pandemic, performs background checks on applicants and matches users based on shared interests. It only asks that they have some sort of contact—online, phone or in-person—once weekly.“The hardest part is getting started," Ms. Merchant says.

Take a boarder

Another way to befriend young people is to live with them. Noelle Marcus founded Nesterly in 2017 as a platform for intergenerational home-sharing. It mostly links international students with retirees willing to rent out a room in their homes for up to one year.One Nesterly client is 85-year-old Bettina Norton, a former museum registrar and neighborhood newspaper publisher in the Boston area. Ms. Norton lives alone in the same four-story home that has been in her family since 1941.

Most of her student tenants stay for about six months, she says, and help with things like walking her dog and household chores.

“I really missed the contact with younger people after I retired," Ms. Norton says. “And the students who stay here are willing to do all kinds of things to help. Having younger friends keeps the mind active."


Catch all the Politics News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.


Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App