Many years ago, while I was visiting my great Aunt Edith in Portland, Oregon, we went to a big, vertical, indoor mall so I could do some necessary shopping. Aunt Edith preferred to stay in a main floor area, a pleasant space with benches and tables, lots of light and living trees.
I was gone about an hour and when I returned, there were three young men deep in conversation with Aunt Edith. It turned out they were starting college and Aunt Edith was giving them household tips complete with easy-to-cook recipes and how to live on a tight budget. They seemed to be having such a good time, I hesitated to interrupt. It’s not often in my experience that the very young and very old spend much time together and conventional wisdom dictates that the generations have little in common.
When I was in Seattle last summer, I met a young man with whom I had dinner two nights. It was an instance we all experience now and then of feeling like you’ve always known someone. We kept in touch and while he was visiting the east coast this month, he came up here from Boston to spend four days with me.
Stan is a successful tech entrepreneur taking some time off while looking for his next business (ad)venture. We spent our days mostly deep in conversation about life and love and philosophy and technology and the nature of happiness – you name it. We continued our discussions each evening until midnight and beyond. It was delightful.
Stan, who is in his early 30s, isn’t the only young man with whom I’m friends. Lately, I seem to be collecting them and they are among the best relationships I’ve ever had with men. It is a completely unexpected development in my old age and I’ve been wondering if it is common and what accounts for it.
Whether it is common, I don’t know. What accounts for it, I think, is that with the large gap between our ages, there is an absence of sexual tension. For my part there is no wondering, as when I was younger, if this will develop into a romance, no nervousness over what to wear or if I’m attractive enough, no posturing or trying to be something I’m not to impress him. We’re just friends, two people who enjoy one another’s company without the complications of sexual attraction.
Discounting grandchildren, people seem to segregate themselves mostly by age and there is much to be said for having friends who share a similar life experience. But hanging out young people is a good thing too, and I wish I had included this phenomenon in the When I Was Young Meme last week. I would never have predicted, when I was 25, that I would have such a terrific group of young friends when I got old and that we would have so much fun together.
Maybe that was just youthful chauvinism on my part and young people today have less of it.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman wonders about the surprise some people have at hearing Please and Thank You.]