The Power of the ‘Odd Couple’ – How Bridging the Generation Gap Can Change Your Life for the Better

Where does your brain go when I say ‘Odd Couple’?

The classic 1968 Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon movie? Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart? Or perhaps a closer-to-home alternative (WHY did my brain go to Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge?!)

Yeah, it’s a broad term, but when I’m talking about odd couples here, I’m talking about friendships, and those friendships that don’t fit the societal ‘norm’ (whatever the hell that is.)

I’m talking friendships where someone is significantly older or younger – and while these types of relationships can still be seen as a little weird, they’re very much on the rise, and for good reason.

I’ve always had a lot of older friends myself. Growing up as an awkward teenager who tried to balance her interest in Shakespeare with a desire to fit in (yes, you’re right, it’s IMPOSSIBLE) I inevitably had many different friend groups, and to feed my intellectual side, a lot of those who also appreciated things such as literature and politics also happened to be older.

I then found myself living with a married couple who had a 17-year age gap, and saw how much they gained from each other’s shared experiences and life stages – one stayed young, one matured – and saw age was no guarantee of happiness or love. (I also learned to cook which was VERY much appreciated.)

So when it comes to becoming buddies with those from different generations, I’m on board. But the more I looked into it, the more I reckon others should jump on the bandwagon, too.

The reason that most of our friends are our own age comes down to a simple reason, say the experts – school.

Robert Kurzban, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, says age is no guarantee of a great friendship.

“A lot of our relationships are formed in a formal education environment so we wind up with relative [age] homogeneity,” he tells the Huffington Post.

“The best predictor of friendship rank is where you think that person puts you in their friendship queue.”

Christchurch woman Hannah Guzy never expected to become BFF’s with an 87-year-old bloke.

But that’s exactly what happened when Simon Mullins walked into her plant shop in Christchurch in July last year.

“Simon came in and made a purchase, and we just got to chatting,” says Hannah.

Could they BE any cuter? Hannah and Simon together after a cuppa at his rest home

“And then he sent me an email a couple of days later to thank me, and it’s all kind of started from there!”

After a few trips out to Simon’s rest home for a cuppa and a chat – even bringing along a few of her girlfriends – Hannah is now a staunch advocate of making the time to get to know others from different walks of life, especially those who have lived so much more of it.

“It was natural, we had an easy rapport from the beginning,” she says. “We’ve been telling each other our stories and I’ve learnt so much. Simon grew up just outside of Timaru on a farm, but he decided farming wasn’t for him so he became a South Island tour operator, so he has great stories about everything.

“He has five kids, so it’s not like I’m trying to take anyone’s place or anything, it’s just a friendship that I really enjoy. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and the enjoyment of discovering other people’s stories is amazing. All of my friends my age, we all have similar connections and backgrounds. Now Simon’s kind of like a pseudo-grandparent to me.”

The actual benefits of intergenerational friendships are many – here’s just a few:

  1. Broaden your perspective – Yes, ok, some older people might have a bit of an antiquated view on the world. But it doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them and see some of the truths behind stereotypes.
  2. Confidence is key – I know you know what I mean when I talk about the confidence of elderly folk, they just don’t give a damn about saying what they think and why. I’m not suggesting you go spouting your views loudly and forcefully in the supermarket, but with age comes the wonderful ability to not care what others think.
  3. They’ve been there, done that – Sometimes it’s hard to talk to the older people in your family about personal stuff (I mean I can’t IMAGINE talking to my nana about sex or relationships… I don’t even do that with my mum) but having someone a little older and wiser who has probably been through the same issues can be a wonderful asset.
  4. Advice on adult things you haven’t wrapped your head around yet – Things like money and finance, investments and careers are all areas of your life where you can benefit from someone’s older and wiser head.
  5. Learn from their mistakes – We all make them, and if they’re older they’ve probably made more. Listen, learn and take it all in.
  6. You’ll be a better person – Bold I know, but it’ll teach you how to relate to anyone, no matter how old they are and where they’ve come from in life.

So if you’re finding your life lacking a bit of perspective – or you look around your friend group and you realise that everyone is the same as you – have a think about how your life might change for the better.

And at the very least, there will always be biscuits in the blue sewing tin. 

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