How to deal with age difference among friends?
June 28, 2008 12:10 AM   Subscribe

How does a woman in her mid-40s keep her self-esteem in an sea of thirtysomethings?

I am a woman in my mid-40s, married to a man 10 years my junior. Our relationship is very good, so no problems there. We are okay with our age difference (within our marriage) and truly love each other. However, our circle of friends consists of mainly early 30somethings--his friends--who I met through him. Although I have managed to fit in socially with his younger friends (because I have relatively good social skills), sometimes I feel like I'm way too old for this group of friends, and that I have nothing in common with them, as my priorities and interests are often completely different from theirs. I feel as though I need to "hide" my age from these friends because most of them have made numerous, rather insensitive age-ist comments that make it clear that they see anyone over 40 as ancient. (I won't go into details here, but let's just say that this is a very youth-oriented social circle that is very interested in partying and youth culture in general). Unfortunately, this makes me feel ashamed about who I am, and has had a definite effect on my self-esteem. I want to be okay with who I am, and with my age, despite the fact that I am socializing among people a full generation younger than me. Any suggestions on how to deal with this situation? Should I try to convince my husband to move back to my city of origin, to be with my accepting and familiar circle of 40something friends (he has met all of them and likes them and relates to them)? Or can I summon some strength from within myself, that I didn't know existed, to make me feel better about myself--or at least NOT feel like a grandma at social functions? I pose this question to you Mefites, as there is a wealth of wisdom and experience out there, and I welcome your comments.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if this helps, but it sounds like you're the adult; someone in any group of friends is always the adult, and it's not always the oldest, in fact it's often the youngest. I grew up that way, surrounded by older folks and never quite sure why everyone else seemed to be having so much more fun while I was taking care of the practical things and feeling old beyond my years.

The thing is, at least in my 30-something-to-40-something circle of friends, the oldest folks are the funniest, most successful and most admired of the bunch. That we treat them a bit differently isn't a result of us feeling superior (because, you know, we're so YOUNG!) but because we're reverent and a bit in awe.

So the solution probably isn't to run back to the old ways, nor is it to keep things the way they are; really, I'd recommend summoning some strength from within yourself to meet new folks within a few years of your age -- or whom act as if they are -- and embrace them as your friends and merge them into your social circle. Over time, you old (and old-at-heart) folks will be the ones that the younger ones look up to.

It's funny how that always happens, you know? 3-year-olds look up to 4-year-olds, 16-year-olds look up to 18-year-olds, 18-year-olds look up to 21-year-olds, 30-year-olds look up to 40-year-olds, and so on. It's just baked in that we admire those that are a step above us, and mock those that are younger or more than one step above.

(Plus, older women are awesome, I'm married to one myself; you're probably more admired than you realize.)
posted by davejay at 12:23 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and my circle includes some folks who are much older than me, but I had *no idea* until recently; if you don't make an issue of it, nobody else will.
posted by davejay at 12:24 AM on June 28, 2008

I find as I face down 40 that it helps to remember that we're all aging at exactly the same rate; the only difference is that some of us showed up a little earlier than others to get the process started.
posted by scody at 12:39 AM on June 28, 2008 [8 favorites]

I think you've gotta make your own friends, separate from your partner's. This is always a healthy practice -- you never know, after all, what can happen. You definitely sound like you'd be happier if you had some friends you relate to, which is perfectly understandable. You can't change the friends you've got but you can make new ones.

Incidentally I have this problem in a big way, except I'm 30-something and they're 20-somethings. I didn't think the different between 30s and 40s would be as vast as 20s and 30s!
posted by loiseau at 12:41 AM on June 28, 2008

If this group is in their thirties and still interested in partying and youth culture, it sounds like they still have a lot of growing up to do. You may be just the mature mentor to lead them in that direction. You needn't change yourself to accommodate the whims and immaturity of the crowd. They will respect you more if you maintain your dignity and credibility. At some point they will see the light. Those who don't will be left behind. You are awesome.
posted by netbros at 1:21 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

30-somethings aren't really that much younger than 40-somethings. If they really are making comments about anyone over 40 being ancient, they're being completely ridiculous. God willin' and the creek don't rise, they are going to be 40-somethings very very soon, sooner than they think, and if they think that 40-something is ancient, they are going to freak right the hell out. Let's just say they won't be nearly as graceful and self-possessed as you are.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:54 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would suggest just be yourself, that's the best ever attraction possible to any age group, and then don't worry about what others think. Most probably they like you.
posted by nikheal at 4:21 AM on June 28, 2008

I agree with netbros, what 30 somethings is your husband hanging out with? I'm in my mid-forties but work in an office with mostly people ten years younger than me but they are just as grown-up/boring family guys as I am. If someone is still a hard partier in his/her thirties, there may be something wrong there. I think that you just need to find new friends where you live now who are actually adults.
posted by octothorpe at 5:12 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

They will get theirs. soon they wil be in their 40s, then 50s and 60s and then they will worry will they ever see their 70s. Fuck them. Really. Be the adult and ignore this childish crap. You could lord your superior experience etc. over them but that would be just as childish. Proudly tell them your age. Frankly, once they know most of them will probably shut up just so as not to hurt your feelings.
posted by caddis at 5:48 AM on June 28, 2008

if you were 35 and he 25 it'd be much worse. just wait a couple of years and his friends will calm down, have kids, etc. -- they're nearing forty anyway

it's O.K.
posted by matteo at 7:36 AM on June 28, 2008

Make light of it. In this type of situation I usually joke by using young slang but trying to sound like somebody's dad using the language to be cool.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:51 AM on June 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

(I won't go into details here, but let's just say that this is a very youth-oriented social circle that is very interested in partying and youth culture in general)

And they're in their 30s? Remind yourself that they're feebly grasping on to the last strands of their youth, unable to accept the natural process of aging, and that it's pretty pathetic to everyone that's not them. Honestly, if they're in their 30s and they're out partying like 20-somethings, they are the ones that will be the butt of many jokes after they've gone home for the night.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:57 AM on June 28, 2008 [3 favorites]

If this group is in their thirties and still interested in partying and youth culture, it sounds like they still have a lot of growing up to do.

Yeah, and I don't agree that you should bother mentoring them. Make some new friends, and you might suggest to your husband that spending so much time around a bunch of fools "feebly grasping on to the last strands of their youth" (as C_D says) is perhaps not the best use of his time.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't insult your husbands friends to him -- that's not really going to help anything. But do take the time to make some 40-something female friends, and some couple friends that are more in your age group than his. Having some people around that you can more clearly relate to will help.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:36 AM on June 28, 2008

Sounds to me it isn't the age difference per se that is the problem. It's the friends themselves. They are just different.

I'll be fifty my next birthday and make jokes about being an old fart but I am very young at heart and have friends of all ages. Age is just a number!

Oh, and my best friend is married to a guy seven years younger than she is. Compared to her he is positively stodgy.
posted by konolia at 9:51 AM on June 28, 2008

Hmmmm. Three things, I guess. First, and most importantly, go out and find some of your own friends without your husband. Join a book group, volunteer group, rock climbing gym, wine tasting circle, whatever you're in to. Check out for your area. It's much easier to make friends if you already know you have one major thing in common with them. I think if you had some friends of your own, regardless of their age, the situation wouldn't feel so confining.

Second, if your husband's friends are really as immature as they sound, there's not much you can do about that. Is your husband as party-oriented as they are? If he's not, you may find that as time goes on and his life becomes more and more stable and mature, he may just not want to hang out with them as much as they'll have less and less in common. If not, if you do find some of your own friends and get other avenues of socialization, you might be able to feel like hanging out with the party people isn't so bad from time to time since it would be just one facet of your social self and not the whole thing.

Third, I know this sounds silly, but a lot of age really is in your head. I mean, it's always going to be hard to be really close to people with whom you have little shared cultural experience due to a big age difference. On the other hand, that doesn't sound like a huge difference, so maybe part of the problem is trying to get comfortable enough with yourself that you aren't plagued by these "God, I'm a dinosaur" feelings.

My boy and I are 27 and our major social group is 31-39ish. Partly, we're pretty mature and in a very long term committed relationship, so I guess we don't come off as kids. More than that, these are just the people that we have a lot in common with and really like hanging out with. Sometimes we do grown up stuff like have dinner parties. Sometimes we go out on a Saturday night and drink and party. The vast majority of the time we all seem to forget that there's a 10 year age difference because we're just having a good time. If you're really having fun with people you really enjoy, that stuff doesn't matter as much.
posted by mostlymartha at 9:52 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I keep hearing that 40s is the new 30s, so you should fit right in :)

At the same time, as a guy in my late 20s, I can't really think of 'youth oriented' things I will do in my 30s. What is that? Going out, watching movies? That's not really age specific....

I see myself enjoying a drink at a bar occasionally for as long as I am alive.

now, going out, getting shitfaced or drugged into a state of craziness?....that's immature at any age, ok, fine, once you've gotten out of college! If that's what your husband's friends like to do, then you should have a talk with him and if he even dares to call you 'old' for suggesting he mellows out, then point him to this page! ;)
posted by spacefire at 10:05 AM on June 28, 2008

Sounds to me like your husband's friends are terrified of aging. Just ignore their childish behavior and be yourself. Who cares what they think? Such immature concerns are beneath you. You're much cooler and more interesting than they are; they're pretending like they're still in their 20s and acting foolish. Don't waste another minute worrying about this -- find some decent friends closer to your age and let the children play.
posted by Koko at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2008

They're making those comments because, having successfully survived the supposedly old-making 30th birthday, they are FREAKING THE FUCK OUT about being 40 in a few years.

It's lame and its desperate, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you. A completely appropriate response would be to roll your eyes and tell them to quit being such whiners, since they're gonna be forty! before they know it. Alternately, just tell them to cut that shit out, it's annoying. And then tell them to get off your lawn.

/34 with friends in their forties. I find this shit annoying.
posted by desuetude at 10:20 AM on June 28, 2008

I tried to ignore this question twice, damn it.

My wife is 20 years my junior early thirties. It presents some problems, mostly because she is starting a career and I am into the late stages of mine. Yeah, there is a small disconnect with SOME of her friends, but mostly, I am younger than many of them, physiologically and in character.

I make the most fun of my advanced age and like my being from the South, it is a convenient shtick. Most of them do not exclude me from their infrequent insults to the aged because they do not consider me that far out of their group. (I had to remind two of them the other day that when I was 6, Alaska and Hawaii weren't states yet.)

Here's the deal. You're old. Tough shit. Soon, your main squeeze will be old, too, and not long after that, you'll die. In the meantime, how to you preserve the positive aspects of youth, while canning the crap that's usually there.... e.g.;

Confusing appearance with character
Being in the full material acquisition mode
Being inexperienced and refusing to take advice
Being impolite and inconsiderate

The good stuff you need to keep is:

Being experimental and open to new things
Learning, learning, learning
Being competitive and at the same time, protecting your group
Being optimistic about your future
Amazement, fun, and adventure
Healthy exercise (provided the 30-somethings you know aren't obese!)

Old is not bad. Sometimes, it strikes me how many superb humans have already lived out their lives and died and it makes me sad. Age has helped me to appreciate that. I'm determined to show young'ns how to age well, and by god, I've got a little fan club already. Don't be too hard on them if they aren't living up to your expectations about what a 30-something should be like if you aren't being a good 40-something. Hell, for that matter, don't be hard on them. What were you like 10 years ago?

Jesus H. Christ, I am so tickled to have been around during the Cuban missile crisis, the era of the vaccum tube, the rise and fall of the cassette tape, entire technologies that have come and gone and still, I learn and strive and have fun and am amazed and love and support my younger acquaintances and forgive (most of them!) their follies! My wife says I am really more like 3 18-year olds than one 54.

Give them a break. Make new friends, but not to displace them, to add to them. Repeat. Have fun. Love this brief life you have. Don't fret over tiny insults and omissions. There just isn't time.

Hugs... x 10.
posted by FauxScot at 11:10 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel as though I need to "hide" my age from these friends because [... ...] they see anyone over 40 as ancient.

Do exactly the opposite.

It sounds like desuetude is exactly right: this is a social group with a very small age span, and they're suddenly finding themselves and all the people they know (or so they think) teetering on the precipice of 40. If they really do foolishly see 40 as ancient, then of course they're nervous about it, and the ageist comments are just whistling in the dark, trying either to make light of their anxieties (if it's mostly joking) or establishing distance (if it's mostly straight-faced).

Show them who you are. You're interesting, intelligent, obviously attuned to social nuances, and most importantly, you're you, an individual with a life you've built for more than four decades. You're awesome!

Your age is incidental.

I'll say it again: your age is incidental to who you are. It doesn't define you, except that you've had more time to get comfortable in your skin. However, if you can make easy, incidental reference to your age, your husband's friends may realize how silly they are to think that 40 --- an age only a few years off for them --- is substantially different from, say, 35. Your example may ease their fears some, which would make things easier for you as well as for them.

I've been on both sides of this divide: from my twenties on, my closest friends have been a decade or two older, and it's been inspiring to see how little their age matters, how much we have in common, and how much time there is in life to explore your goals and hopes. Now, as an older student (OMG, 38!) among mostly 20-somethings, I can often see my younger classmates weighing the notion of my age against what they see of me in the classroom and outside. It's good for them to see that "older" is relative, and that there isn't an arbitrary cut-off point at which their lives grind to a halt.

If your husband's friends don't wise up after a while, you might consider: are they kinda shallow?
posted by Elsa at 11:10 AM on June 28, 2008

You don't have to move to make friends your own age, or at least friends with similar interests.

You're really seeing this as one or the other--you stay out here and hang with the same friends all the time, feeling awkward and uncomfortable, or you move.

There is a happy medium, here.

I would also try moodgym (self mefi post link, but it's not my site). It's something you can do online, for free, and it works really well. I'm on the self-esteem module now, in fact. I really enjoy it. Calisthenics for your brain.

I'm mixed race but others read me as right, so I deal with racist comments, too.

I respond by agreeing in a way that makes them look foolish: "Those Mexicans, every single one of them is exactly alike with absolutely no variation." Etc. You can adapt this to your situation easily.

It shows that you know what's going on. It doesn't make you seem angry or insecure. It somewhat gently points out the insensitivity of the comment. The people who know how old you are will "get it" immediately and feel good that they're in the know. The perpetrator gets negative reinforcement because the joke is at his expense. When he realizes how old you are, he's going to feel like an asshole. As he should.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:15 PM on June 28, 2008

I'm mixed race but others read me as right,

I mean white.

posted by sondrialiac at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2008

Do you have to hang out with them?
posted by mynameismandab at 4:22 PM on June 28, 2008

You seem to be viewing yourself as having only two options, either to move back to where your friends are or to develop strength to deal with your feelings of being older than others in your current social circle.

You could try to make friends where you live now with people who have similar priorities and interests to you. It sounds like you don´t have a lot in common with this group. I don´t think your friends have to be the same age as you, but you should have friends you enjoy being around.

As for the age-ist comments, call them on it. Don´t cower. Say something about how you´re over 40 and whatever. Don´t take a parental tone with this, but an adult one. Think about how you would respond if this was some other -ist sort of comment.
posted by yohko at 6:16 PM on June 28, 2008

I dated a much older man for 7 years. The age difference was an issue for me at first, but I grew up. Meanwhile it became more of an issue for him in that I think he felt sorry for himself sometimes and obsessed with feeling old rather than just being involved in the relationship. It was a wall he put up sometimes, out of fear. He didn't even really try to get to know my friends because he was so distracted with thinking about how they probably related to me in a way that he couldn't, so we mostly just hung out with his friends since I always got along with them. He felt more secure when we were in his element, and although it frustrated me I went along with it.

But when my friends met him, they liked him... they thought he was charming and funny and interesting. It was HIS insecurity that he couldn't deal with. So the relationship was never able to work out, because he just just couldn't get over it and mellow out. I tried for 7 years but it was just not going to change, if anything he got worse about the age difference even though I was aging and maturing.

Thing is, he had a lot more life to him than most of the guys my age did. He was more interesting. He was more active. He was fun and I learned a lot from him. Guys my age mostly just wanted me to pay for their beer back then. He treated me like a lady and I *loved* feeling like I was dating an adult. I became a better woman by having that relationship. Before that, I was just a girl who was dating boys, but when I dated him I learned what it was to be a woman dating a man. I really liked that.

Now that I'm in my early 40s, I'm finding myself dating younger guys more often though. I keep thinking about my ex, and reminding myself that I'm seeing things from his side now. Similarly, the guys I date now are attracted to me because I'm a woman and not a girl, and that's what they are looking for. Thing I have to remind myself is that I was dating him BECAUSE I LIKED HIM. His age wasn't a downside really, his life experience was part of what made him who he was and that's why I wanted to be with him. And the people who I choose to date are probably choosing to be with me for the same reason. If people are attractive to you, care about you, don't bore you, and they make you feel good inside... what more could you ask for? The year they were born makes no difference to anyone with a heart or brain.

Life's so freaking short.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:45 PM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the advice to get some friends of your own and to also find a more mixed social scene that you can both enjoy together.

I was in a multi-year relationship with a man who was 14 years younger than me (he was in his late 20s). I agree that it can feel awkward to spend a lot of time with people who are at a different life stage than you. The difference seems more acute if the younger set is still at the party stage.

How we handled it: each week, I had a night that I did stuff with my friends alone, he had a night that he did stuff with his friends, and the rest of the time we did stuff with our mutual friends. We were part of a large social scene that spanned a lot of ages, so that part worked well.

I would also recommend that you stop "hiding" your age. I occasionally joked about it, mentioning my extremely advanced wisdom, etc. No one in that scene discussed the supposed horrors of turning 40, but if they had, I would have turned it around: clearly 40-something is awesome because I myself am so indisputably awesome, and anyone concerned about entering that decade is just afraid of awesomeness. I also enjoyed hammering the youngsters at knowledge games.

I still occasionally go to social events at which I'm about 10 years older than the oldest person, because I like the energy and open-mindedness of the younger crowd.
posted by PatoPata at 3:20 PM on June 29, 2008

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