It’s been said that youth is wasted on the young. The older I get the more I find there is some truth to that. It wasn’t until I was 36 and developed a friendship with an elder couple that I really became aware of how much of my youth had been wasted on things that, in hindsight, were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And since then, forming this bond of friendship and camaraderie with people 50+ years my senior has opened my eyes and given me different perspectives on the world around me.
Growing up, I always had an eclectic grouping of friends; my social circle ran the gamut from scholarly school kids to angst-ridden punks, all from different walks of life and economic backgrounds. Having had that diversity in my friendships left the door open to welcome anyone and everyone into my life. The one thing everyone had in common, despite their differences, was age. Everyone fell into an approximate 10-year span of each other. So as we grew up and matured, and some of those dividing lines began to blur, age wasn’t the only common ground between them anymore. Life happened, and we began to experience all the growing pains that come along with getting married, finding our careers, and losing loved ones. But our perspectives on things were framed by limitations–the limits of experience that are dissolved only by age.
Initially, when I met my older friends, I didn’t imagine our relationship ever being anything more than just a polite acquaintance. I mean really, being honest, I had never had a desire to hang out with my grandparents or had much to chat about with their friends–and they all knew me. So really, what could I possibly have to talk about with these older strangers? Well, apparently more than I thought. What started as a, “Hi, how are you,” as most friendships do, turned into drinks, drinks turned into dinners, and dinners turned into conversations about life, present, past, and future. Somehow, we had actually become friends. But the difference between befriending someone my age versus someone in their 70s or 80s was that there was no bullshit. Simple as that. There was no beating around the bush, sugar coating, impressing, worrying about not offending anyone, or being politically correct. Just the freedom to completely just be yourself without apologies. And it was refreshing.
What it came down to was mutual respect, which is the basis of all friendships and healthy relationships. That–and being open to learning from each other and offering to help teach other. They like my boyfriend and me for us, and we like them for them. We talk about what it was like when they were our age and how it is at our age now for us. Politics is an interesting discussion that is often left with just a smirk and a nod of acknowledgment of mutual disagreement. We share travel adventures, animal stories, and gossip about others in our area. My tattoos are often a conversation-starter–as well as my wanderlusting parents. The more time spent with each other in conversation, the smaller the differences between our two worlds became as common ground, mutual acquaintances, and similar experiences came to light. Through all of it, though, there has never been a moment where it was ever expected that I had to be anything other than exactly who I am. Speak your mind, say what you feel, and don’t apologize for it.
At 80 years old, they’ve seen the world change and have been there to experience it first hand. Throughout their whole lives, the one thing that’s been constant is the change in the world around them. They’ve lived through military drafts, segregation, disco, Wall Street, the beginning of the internet, and more. These weren’t things they learned about in history books like we did. We take for granted the world we live in now with its relative acceptance of diversity, widespread use of technology, and limitless opportunities because most of us reading this have always known these luxuries to be the norm. These aren’t the norm for our grandparents’ generation, however. So while our perspectives are often filled with the best of intent and are fueled by our passion for acceptance of all things different, it’s important to remember that these are relatively new concepts to those that have lived two or three times as long as we have. And our generation, while more accepting of all lifestyle paths and decisions, is usually the first to point out the shortcomings of those generations older than us while rarely acknowledging what can be learned from their experiences.
Simply put, old people don’t care. They’ve seen it, they’ve lived it, they’ve learned it, and they’ve lived through it. They live without apologizing for themselves because by they time you’ve reached a certain age, you know that you can either sit back and watch or jump in and keep living. Life is too short to be anything other than yourself. Too much time is wasted when we’re young trying to impress people who don’t really matter (I mean, hey, if they did actually matter, we really wouldn’t need to impress them in the first place, right?), worrying about if you’re good enough (Yes, you really are!), and feeling unsatisfied and unhappy (You do you, boo). Time goes by so fast. It’s filled with fleeting moments and shaky guarantees. This is a mere concept when you’re younger, but it’s a fact that older people know. Finding my older friends has helped me appreciate that sooner rather than later.
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Photo: Matthew Wiebe via Unsplash