The Joy of Intergenerational Friendship

Our society is “really good” at segregating groups by age, said Shannon Jarrott, a professor of social work at Ohio State University who studies intergenerational community building. There tend to be a few exceptions where these kinds of bonds happen more organically, she said, including mentoring and volunteer opportunities, religious settings and, especially, workplaces. But Dr. Jarrott lamented that there are not more opportunities for people to strike up these friendships, because it means many of us are missing out on a chance to learn and grow.

In a 2019 AARP survey, more than 90 percent of respondents who had an older or younger friend said the relationship gave them things their other friendships could not deliver — namely, a new perspective, inspiration and a greater appreciation of their experiences.

Aarti Veernala, 38, believes the age difference between herself, her husband, Rahul, 43, and the couple’s neighborhood friends Joe Hunter, 76, and his wife, Judy, 81, helped them connect on a deeper level right from the start.

The foursome met in 2017 when the Hunters were on an evening stroll through their neighborhood in Aurora, Ill., while the Veernalas were on their porch. The older couple stopped to tell Mr. Veernala that he’d dropped a piece of mail, which led to some friendly small talk. Ms. Hunter asked whether the couple had children, and Mr. Veernala surprised them all by letting it slip that his wife was about five weeks pregnant — the first time the Veernalas had told anyone other than their parents.

Since that fateful overshare, the families have made an effort to really get to know each other, Ms. Veernala said. “That’s something you usually don’t see in people your own age, because we’re all in a hurry,” she added. “There’s always a little bit of haste in our actions. But Joe and Judy take the time to understand us.”

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