Everyone should have at least one friend who is a lot older than them

There is something funny about being friends with someone who might more naturally get along with your parents; it feels like a tiny social rebellion (Picture: Ella Byworth for

An unexpected friendship is a profoundly lovely thing.

Growing up, I liked to act. My mother and grandmother were both soap opera stars; I like to think I inherited a little something dramatic. I used to lower my voice an octave, put my hands on my hips and take on all the male roles at an all girls school.

When I was 16, I played Antigone’s lover. I was so taken with the role, I insisted on playing it even though I became very ill during the rehearsal period. My drama teacher, who was directing the play, allowed me to keep turning up.

He was this fantastically stubborn visionary who seemed to have quite forgotten that he was working with students, not real actors. He never spoke down to us, he never belittled us, he never made us feel too young or not enough. He expected greatness where it was possible and it showed us what we might be capable of, what we could do.

He was a genuinely influential figure in my life, someone whose opinion I cared about enormously. His support for me, playing a love interest in a Greek tragedy through my own sort of tragic circumstance, remains one of the great gestures of encouragement and empathy in my life. His approval and his compassion meant a great deal to me right when I was working out who I was going to become.

I thought, of course, that when I left school, I’d never see him again. I did. I went back and worked for him, teaching young girls drama, hoping to do for them a sliver of what he did for me.

Time passed, I became a proper adult – in so much as someone ever does. Still, somehow, he was in my life.

We’d exchange emails, we’d have coffee. We’d chat, we’d gossip. We’d have pasta near Trafalgar Square and wander rapidly through art exhibitions. We’d talk about theatre and creativity and writing and stories and the people we knew, the world and our place in it.

We are so often conditioned to stick to socialising with people of our own age group, our own demographic

And then I realised, one day, to my own amusement, that I had an unexpected friend. Someone from a different generation. It’s one of my favourite genres of friend.

I just want to say, now, how very sweet it can be to have the sort of friendship you never really saw coming. You decide to keep someone in your life, even when they don’t neatly fit into your social network. It’s evidence of your ability to choose who you want to have around.

It can be especially wonderful to be friends with someone who belongs to a different age group. Have you tried it? Do.

My boyfriend and I have become quite good friends with our neighbours, who must be in their mid sixties. They’re retired, they’re grandparents. And yet, we find enough in common to have befriended them. We go round for drinks and snacks, we chit chat on the street, we look out for one another. We send emails when we’re on the other side of the world, we comment on the weather.

There is something funny about being friends with someone who might more naturally get along with your parents; it feels like a tiny social rebellion. We are so often conditioned to stick to socialising with people of our own age group, our own demographic. There is wisdom and humour and comfort and joy to be found in seeking friendship with someone you wouldn’t usually invite into your life. It’s a little way for us to see outside our own experience.

I cherish the friendships I have with people who are older than me. They’re precious and interesting and different from the other friendships I have. They make me feel older than my years, in a pleasant way, even for a conversation, and I suspect I make them feel young.

I wholeheartedly recommend becoming friends with someone you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to have in your life. I suggest you try it sometime. Is there a neighbour you could invite round? A friend’s parent you could chat to? An old teacher? A colleague? A acquaintance?

One of the loveliest things about friendship is its capacity to make us feel something profound for another human being, one we are not tied to by blood or romantic love or legal ceremony. We can choose who we want to have in our life as friends, and sometimes it’s quite nice to make an unexpected choice.

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