Stories of age gap friendships/cohabitation to help me allay my anxiety?
July 16, 2022 9:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm stuck in a rumination spiral about being a 26 year old living with two housemates who are 40. Do you have any stories of friendships/cohabitation with people older than you that you can share to help me feel like less of a freak?

I 'm 26 years old and just moved in with two housemates who are 40. I'm stuck in an anxiety spiral about the age gap and feeling like there's something wrong with me that I wasn't able to find housemates my own age - the places that did want me that were in my age range were too much on the party end for me, and the places that were just right didn't want me. My housemates are lovely and we get along really well and have fun doing communal things and the place is very nice too but I'm so stuck ruminating on this ideal I had of living in a communal sharehouse with a bunch of other 20-somethings that I can't enjoy any of it. Rationally I know it's stupid and ageist but I can't stop thinking about it. Do you have any stories of friendships/cohabitation with people older than you that you can share to help me feel like less of a freak?
posted by fantasticbotanical to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My wife’s best friend in grad school was about the same age difference from her. There were a ton of things they didn’t have in common but they got along great and that’s what mattered. She had other friends closer to her age too but everyone is different and those weren’t the folks she hit it off with the best. It’s fine and good and normal!
posted by rustcellar at 9:45 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

I've co-habitated with over 50 different people (mostly during my 20s), and the determining factor(s) as to whether or not they were enjoyable to live with was definitely not age. If you have lovely housemates that you not just get along with, but also have fun doing things together and your place is nice? That's called hitting the jackpot.
posted by coffeecat at 9:54 PM on July 16 [44 favorites]

My housemates are lovely and we get along really well and have fun doing communal things and the place is very nice too

Wow, how great is that?
Anecdata - when I was in my early 30s, the two women I got along with best and spent the most time with were in their 60s. It’s so interesting to talk to people who grew up in a different generation. Sometimes I felt a little weird about it, so I get it. But there really wasn’t any reason to feel weird about it.
posted by Glinn at 9:57 PM on July 16 [9 favorites]

One of my closest friends is almost exactly 15 years older than me. We've been friends for 20+ years now!

Good roommate situations are gold whatever the ages of the roommates. Don't toss yours away chasing some silly fantasy concocted by Tiktok influencers.
posted by praemunire at 10:02 PM on July 16 [21 favorites]

Congrats, you're trendy.
posted by Toddles at 10:04 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]

My favourite former colleague is 16 years older than me. I started teaching there when I was 28 and she was 44, and we worked together for over 10 years. We were in totally different places in our lives when we became friends (I was childless and living with a feckless boyfriend, renting an apartment and just starting to get my career on track, and she was married to a nice solid guy, had two teenagers, owned a home and had been teaching for about 10 years). However, we just clicked and got along fantastically. I think a lot of it was we had similar interests and shared the same weird sense of humour. Sometimes I’d ask her for professional or personal advice and she would give it, like a cool aunt or big sister. But mostly we just interacted as peers and shared jokes and talked about all kinds of stuff, work and non-work related. She took early retirement about 8 years ago to move closer to/spend more time with her new granddaughter, and I’m happy for her but I do miss her. We are still in touch and I still think she is awesome.

From the other side: I also have a good friend who is 14 years younger than me, and we also get along super well. To be completely honest we often forget there is a big age gap because we both have similar interests and, again, have the same sense of humour. We mostly remember when one of us makes a pop culture reference and it turns out I was in grad school and she was in elementary school!

I can understand feeling bummed because your living situation isn’t how you imagined it would be. That can be disappointing, when reality doesn’t match up with what you were hoping for. But I have to agree—good roommates are hard to find, and it’s really great that you get along well with them and that they are lovely! Hopefully you’ll be able to relax more into the situation as you get more used to it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:04 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]

When I was 18 I lived with a 50 year old roomate. When I was 19 I moved in with a lover who was 36. Both situations were great until close to the end, despite being a little different than I expected. One because of a heroin addiction (not mine) the other for more subtle reasons that I'm not going to share in public. My advice is not to worry about it. Age matters, but not nearly as much as lots of other more important things.

You can go to parties hosted by other people in big group houses. And, in public, eventually or now, depending on your COVID risk assessment. As a 40-something who spends most of every day with both 25 year olds and 60 year olds, the age thing is a lot less important than world view, sense of humor, attention to cleanliness. (It is true I can't dance for quite as long as I could when I was 19 and don't recognize music produced in the last 20 years. But, that's true of some peers I had in college too and we got along.) Best wishes.
posted by eotvos at 10:28 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

When I was in my 20s, my friends ranged in age. I had one friend in particular who was over 40.

I’m now in my late 40s. The ages of two of my closest friends: 28 and 57. Just had dinner with my younger friend tonight. We are very emotionally close and it’s a healthy, strong friendship.

I know 40 seems hopelessly old when you’re in your 20s, and you likely seem young to them, but you’re an adult living with adults in a good situation.

Also, those communal homes of 20-somethings aren’t nearly as stable as your current situation.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:29 PM on July 16 [22 favorites]

It sounds ridiculous (and maybe also a little depressing, though I promise it isn't) but with each passing year this will feel like much less of an age gap to you. If you look at it back through time you can see what's going to continue to happen—you 10 and them 24, obviously totally different categories of people. You 20 and them 34, they're still almost twice your age and getting settled into the life that you're just starting.

26 and 40? I know 26-year-olds and 40-year-olds who are in roughly the same phases of life (for all manner of phases). You 30 and them 44, now you're all equally alienated from new trends and trendsetters believe you to be "I don't know, 35 or something."

Just my experience as someone who's friends with a lot of people who I used to think were Much Older than me but who I now think of as basically the same age as me give or take 10 years. (It only really occurs to me when we're talking about Jurassic Park, say, and their story is "I drove a date to see it in high school" and mine is "my mom thought it would be too scary for a first-grader." Happens in the other direction, too—all the late-90s/early-2000s nostalgia that's filtering through pop culture now is stuff I lived through in junior high, but to my younger friends Limp Bizkit and bucket hats are the hazy and warm background to their toddlerhood.)
posted by Polycarp at 11:28 PM on July 16 [10 favorites]

Yes it's fictional, but it might be fun to watch Only Murders in the Building, since one of the most delightful parts is the friendship mong the three main characters, played by Steve Martin, Martin Short, and (decades younger) Selena Gomez.
posted by Threeve at 11:52 PM on July 16 [8 favorites]

Right after college, for about 6 months, I lived with a 39 yo woman in a two bedroom apartment. I was 22. We got along really well. During the week we would hang out and watch TV and order in. Weekends, we did our own thing for the most part. She was a very stabilizing influence on me when I quite frankly needed it. I was trying to start a career and needed to tamp down my college fraternity partying ways. I moved to Chicago, but we kept in touch with each other for years. She is now in her 70s. We still exchange holiday cards and the occasional hand written letter. She never had children and my kids consider her their fun aunt/grandmother.

My friends at the time we lived together would tease me good naturedly, but once they met her were jealous of me. They were dealing with loud gross roommates. I had sort of a big sister that I never had.

It is easy for me to tell you to ignore the age difference. I do think that you will look back on it fondly. It is not a failure on your part, it is a success that you found good roomies. Everybody has a horror story about their worst roommate. You dodged a bullet.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:04 AM on July 17 [20 favorites]

When I was 23 I moved into a house with a 50 year old man (I'm a woman, 36 now). His wife got a job in another city and they needed a housemate to help keep the costs down. I lived with him for 7 years and he came to be one of my closest friends. Actually, after I moved out he ended up living with my husband and I in a different city for a while. I know it sounds like a weird situation but it was never, ever weird or creepy and the friendship just kind of happened organically.

Two of my other close friends are men in their 50s and 60s (colleagues who became friends), and I also recently made a new friend, a 76 year old woman. Age really is just a number. I think it's weirder for people to only associate with people who are like them.
posted by thereader at 12:29 AM on July 17 [14 favorites]

This is making me feel so thankful I’ve spent my entire adulthood in the punk community, because the age range was always so broad, at least in my corner of the community in any country ever lived in. I’ve lived in so many squats and big communal spaces, and almost every single one of them was a mix of teens thru 50s. A 29-year old friend lived with someone in his late 70s for awhile. Society is so poisoned by ageism, and so reorganized by capitalism, that we miss both the pure normalcy of multigenerational living, and the huge benefits of it too. When I was younger than you, half my friends were 40 and I never gave it a second thought. Now Im late 40s and still friends with a huge age range, early 20s to mid-80s even. Fight that ageist vibe pushed down our throats, its seriously yet another destructive byproduct/tool of capitalism.
posted by asimplemouse at 1:20 AM on July 17 [37 favorites]

Just add to the pile-on - I'm in my late 40s and a couple of my good friends are mid-60s and mid-70s. Like, not "It's sweet to go and have a cup of tea and listen to them reminisce" friends, but "Let's go to the pub and hang out" friends. I know to you, we probably all sound old :) But it really is a generational difference between us, and it doesn't matter, because we get on well. I also have a bunch of friends around the "12 years younger than me" mark and that's fine, too.

Often when people come into Ask because they're lonely and lacking friends, one of the answers offered is to open their minds up to becoming friends with people of a wider age range, and you've already got that sorted! It's something that you'll probably find yourself doing sooner or later, so why not now? You're setting yourself up for a happy life filled with genuine, rich friendships.

I do get you - people sometimes talk as if there's something of a rite of passage in sharing a house with a bunch of people all in your 20s, and you feel like you're missing out on a stage of life. But it sounds like you don't want a party house, you've found somewhere that you fit well - I'd say congratulations and enjoy it!

In the years to come, life will find all kinds of ways not to conform to your expectations and hopes and this sounds like a relatively innocuous example of that. Learning how to flex with what life throws at you is a great life skill, and you've got some older, wiser friends and a nice living situation into the bargain.
posted by penguin pie at 1:42 AM on July 17 [10 favorites]

I think what you are experiencing is a central element of adulting. In school, including high school, you are always together with your peers. It is the natural thing. But at some point, you come out in a new world, where you meet different people: people with different ages, different backgrounds. For some people that is somewhat delayed when you go to college. Right now I am listening to a radio show where people are talking about this exact thing, and one woman who is a bit older, points out that in her youth, in the seventies, it was absolutely normal for people to begin their work lives and move into their own homes at 16, and that was when she started to meet older friends.
One of my good friends is soon 90, I'm going to be 59 next time, but we met when I was 22. It took a while before I understood we had become friends, so I really get your thoughts and feelings.
posted by mumimor at 3:55 AM on July 17 [13 favorites]

I'm 52. My roommate is 35. My roommate before him was even younger. It's working out fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]

Everyone here has done a great job of addressing the age-gap in roommates issue. But, on a deeper level, why does doing something that you view as 'unconventional' lead you to judge yourself as a "freak"? I think if you look at that, it might have knock-on effects.
posted by erattacorrige at 5:11 AM on July 17 [17 favorites]

Seems like this is more about what others might think rather than it being something that's an issue in and of itself. Or maybe you're worried about being rushed to grow up in a way?

To me, that age difference isn't really significant. I'm 43 and I have lots of friends, coworkers etc who are much younger and some older too. I find it refreshing to have friends both older and younger- gives different perspectives and often less conflict.
posted by bearette at 5:42 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

My two best friends have a 30 year age difference between them. I am in the middle. I spent about two years worrying about this and then realized that I had entered absolute nirvana in terms of human connection and social understanding. I started seeing the potential. Now I think of myself as the center of a human connection star, a pulsar that has many rays of light: some rays only extend so far in terms of time (folks in their early 20s) and some stretch out further (people in their 70s and even 80s). How much time they have lived is less important than how much dynamic light they share, and in that regard age is absolutely irrelevant.

There's your woo-woo answer if you're into woo-woo.

Logical summary if you aren't: you just stumbled into a truth about the value of human connections that you are likely to cherish for the rest of your life. Lean in to it!
posted by desert exile at 6:58 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]

opposite pov: I'm in my 50s and it's virtually impossible for me to find peers to get to rock shows (or do other musical stuff).

i kind of naturally have a vibe with music lovers, and tend to end up with lots of 20s-30s friends/show-buddies. (i do make a small effort to not send could-be-creeper-vibes).

last night i went to a modern dance recital with a 26yo woman (who invited AND paid). mysterious, eye opening, charming fun, with good conversation after.

i have no idea what the younger cadre think of me; I'm ok with whatever - I'm fifty - ___ years old. i mostly know who i am. we have good times and treat each other well.

maybe that's enough: have good times and treat each other well.

this could work out very well.

i might engineer the atmosphere a bit: have yer people over for some dinners, game nights, sportsball, maybe a small party - whatever y'all do. see if the younger energy persists and permeates.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:43 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]

I'm in my 40s and have always lived with roommates in the SF Bay Area. Most of the time my roommates were younger than me (I moved there in my early 30s). It's probably because older people tend to be partnered up and want their own space, though I certainly know lots of couples and older single people who still have roommates. The high rents and home prices make this so common that there's not really a stigma about it no matter how old you are.

I never thought about age differences much, for roommates or friends. And I generally develop strong friendships with my housemates. We cook meals together, hang out watching movies, and go to events and campouts together. We have backyard barbecues during the summer and introduce our friends groups, which is always a great time. I'm still good friends with most of the folks I've lived with.

If you like your roommates and the place you live, you're doing better than probably 80% of people who live with others... so I wouldn't stress about it too much.
posted by ananci at 7:46 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]

It may be helpful to step outside of your own perspective and look at it from your roommates’ point of view. From your description they sound like adults who have it together (but haven’t lost their sense of curiosity with life), and they decided that you are a decent roommate. That is a commendation, not a failing on your part.
posted by eviemath at 7:52 AM on July 17 [11 favorites]

Seems to me that sorting people into tight cohorts by age must be a recent thing from the industrial era when everyone started living really close together. When people were less densely packed in farming societies or smaller communities, there wouldn’t be a cohort of 60 kids who were all 12 years old, ever.

I’d imagine a less dense community might have like 60 kids total who ranged in age from 0-12 and kids normally went to school in mixed-age groups, hung out with their grandparents, apprenticed with older masters at various skills, hunted in packs, etc and generally just did not have rigid age cohorts to hang out with. Mixed-age socializing must have been much more common then. So I bet what you’re doing is much closer to what humans were designed to do- hang out in groups based on task / interest, proximity, and compatibility.

I’ve had several close friends who were 10 years younger than me and it worked well- they were lively and single and up late like me, and I had some life experience / perspective that they appreciated. Likewise I’m friends with someone who’s 40 years older than me. She finds me lively, I find her wise.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:56 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]

I'm so stuck ruminating on this ideal I had of living in a communal sharehouse with a bunch of other 20-somethings

I think this is the key. And it's worth digging deeper what this ideal is really about. Like, what does it mean for you? What if you never experienced this 20-something sharehouse, what do you feel it would say about you and your life?

Plenty of people, including me, have never had this experience and don't miss it. But it clearly means a lot to you and it's worth digging into what has you so fixating on this idea that it's spoiling the very good things you do have going for you.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:59 AM on July 17 [11 favorites]

At 35 my sister married a 50 year old man. It worked out extremely well for both of them.

For me, a lot of my social group is either 20 years younger or 15 years older than me. It doesn’t matter.

However, I feel you on the lost social opportunities in your late twenties. You’re in a window where that whole scene starts to disintegrate into couples and weddings and eventually babies. You don’t have to live with people to be part of that scene but it does help.

So living with people in a different place in their lives isn’t a bad thing, but make sure you keep a toe in your 20-something social life before it disappears forever.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:11 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]

The older you get, the harder it can be to find cohabitators. I live in a college town and people are constantly rotating in and out, I finally gave up on trying to find a roommate when all I got were spammers. This especially applies to 20somethings and it's kind of exhausting to keep getting new roomies yearly or shorter. Older roommates are probably not going to kick you out, get into anything crazy, decide to shack up with the new boyfriend or move him in, etc.

Really, all it matters is that you get along with your housemates, age or no. I saw some article the other day about a 20something rooming with an 80-year-old. Intergenerational friendships are a very cool thing to do these days and I hang out with people aged 20-72, seriously.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:36 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

I second Omnomnom -- it's worth considering what about the experience you're missing is about the idea of that experience, and what you're concretely missing. What are/would be the good things about living with flatmates/housemates in your own age range, and could you pursue the most important of those things in other ways? Is there any part of you that feels like living with people substantially older than you is somehow infantilizing?

Just in the past few days I caught up with a few friends of mine who are 20+ years older than I am. We enjoy some of the same stuff, and they have great stories. I also have friends who are about 10-15 years older than me, who are my own age, and who are 5-15 years younger than me.

I make a bit of an effort to have friends who are in different industries than my own, to keep from being in a bit of a bubble -- hearing the same news, considering the same things important, etc. Having friends in different life stages is nice for that reason, and because we can care for each other in different ways. My friends who are older than me have been really excellent at immediately offering hospitality and concrete support (food, "here's what you do next" instruction) in moments when I've been in shock, and sharing life experience on matters big and small. And I have been able to accompany them to doctor visits and act as a witness/notetaker, gently say "we don't say that anymore" and explain when they accidentally use offensive language, and help troubleshoot tech issues. Caring and being cared for in this way has helped me reflect on how my parents and I have taken care of each other, including situations where someone's missed the mark. So that's an opportunity you can take as well, if it's helpful. (But of course you don't have to.)
posted by brainwane at 12:14 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]

if you were 18 or 21 there'd be no way out of feeling like this, realistically, no matter how many people told you it was fine. but now? once you're over 25 you are exactly as adult as you want to be, which means that feeling like a freak for doing something unusual is voluntary and unnecessary. you are not so young that it matters. extreme youth is a hell where being socially normal is very important, and luckily for you, you don't live there anymore. instead, you live in the rarified -- freakish, if you like -- world of actually really liking your housemates. don't downplay or deprecate that just because it's almost unheard of! because god knows it is.

and vice versa, too. I say you're an adult if you want to be, but plenty of people do not want to be, and stay kids until 30 or even later. by which I mean harmless but unbearable. so, being a 26-year-old that not one but two 40-year-olds can stand to be around, much less want to live with, is a significant and praiseworthy achievement. that too makes you highly unusual in a good way.

also, you have not just the rest of your twenties but the rest of your life to have roommates who are exactly your age. this is one single roommate situation! you'll have plenty more, unless you like this one so much you never want to leave. you may not find a nice group house situation with a bunch of 26-year-olds until you're 30, but you'll be just as free to grab it then. just don't switch over to feeling bad about having younger housemates when that does happen.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:15 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]

I'm pushing 40. My best friend (and his girlfriend, and their housemate) is ten years younger than me. I am basically an honorary housemate of theirs since I travel there once a month to record music.

Two of my closest friends are near my father's age. We met playing music. When we interact, there's no weird paternalistic thing going on, they treat me like a peer.

My band consists of my best friend, another guy who is my best friends's age, a woman who is 15 years older than me, and a man who is also close to my father's age. We all go to the pub together and have fun and it's not weird.

Of my closest friends now, only one is exactly my age, we knows each other from college. Everyone else is 15-25 years older than me, with the exception of my best friend.

The world is a vivid tapestry of wonderful people of all ages. As long as you enjoy each other's company and living together is easy and unstressful, I don't think there's anything weird about your situation. Rumination is hard and oftentimes irrational, I struggle with it too. But I don't think you have anything to be anxious about. Good friends, good people, people you want to spend time with, are hard to find. As you get older, it gets harder. If I insisted on only being friends with people who were within 2-3 years of me, I'd have nobody. Being lonely in your 20s is hard - I made a poor decision in my 20s to be an aggressive career-chasing workaholic and my only friend was my boyfriend, who had two young kids from a previous relationship to raise/co-parent and I spent a LOT of time alone. It kinda fucked me up. I wish I had found housemates, of any age.

Your living situation sounds lovely. Enjoy yourself and don't worry. You are not a freak.
posted by nayantara at 5:25 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]

When I was 27 I became friends with a 46 year old who was the most fascinating, compelling person I'd ever met. We moved in together a year later and eventually got married. Strangers felt very cofortable curling their noses at a 19 year age gap--and you'll find that knee jerk everywhere, including here.

Fortunately, though, those people aren't part of the friendship you're talking about. You owe nothing in defense of your friendship to people outside of it. Age gaps are meaningless. If you gravitate toward and surround yourself with interesting people regardless of social norms about relationships that aren't supposed to be acceptable, I give you a gold star for being more advanced and humane than people who are happy to accept those arbitraty norms.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:27 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]

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