Rosita Boland: There is no rule that our greatest friendships must be with people our age

The strange magician of time has brought me friends from different decades

Having friendships with people both older and younger has made my life so much richer. Photograph: iStock

There I was last week, having dinner at my own kitchen table with a few friends. My friend Jen asked how I knew Medb, who was visiting from the county where cats feature high in hurling references.

As it happens, I have known Medb since she was 10 years old. She’s not 10 any more. Or 20. Or 30. I met Medb through her mother, Helen; an artist I met decades ago at Annaghmakerrig, the artists’ retreat in Co Monaghan. Helen and I kept in contact after we finished our residencies there, and we have been close friends for almost 30 years now.

I recall being a little in awe of the fact I had a friend who had so much more life experience than me

When I met Helen, she was not far off 20 years older than me. It was the first time I made a close friend who was not a peer in terms of age. Up till then, most of my friends were my contemporaries. We were all, give or take a year, about the same age. I recall being a little in awe of the fact I had a friend who had so much more life experience than me.

It felt in some way such a grown-up thing: to have a friend, a very close friend, who had finished school and college long before I had even started. Who had been married twice, and had four children, at a time when I myself was still bouncing around the world with my rucksack, doing short-term jobs, years before I started working as a journalist.

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Medb and I became good friends too over time, as the years passed, and I got to see her grow up. Whenever I visited, we would chat and I would look at what she was drawing or reading at the time. And then one day, when she herself was in college and I had gone to see a play she had helped produce, it occurred to me that she had become a friend. This was both weird and delightful, in the same way my nieces and nephews, whom I have known since they were babies, have also become friends in adulthood. Time really is a strange magician.

Jen, the friend who was asking how I knew Medb, is more than two decades younger than me. I met her and her now husband on a media press trip a few years ago. Somewhere along the way, as the boat we were on made its stately way down the Danube from Budapest to Vienna and beyond, we bonded over chats and drinks and ever since then, she has been a very close friend.

Now and then I wonder if we will have anything to talk about in 20 years’ time, when I am retired, and she will still be very much a working journalist. But that’s crazy talk. We never shut up when we get together. We’ve even gone away on holidays together and had no difficulty at all talking non-stop. I don’t even know why part of me thinks I should worry that somehow we won’t be friends any more when I get older: I already am two decades older than Jen, and always have been. The simple fact is, age doesn’t matter when it comes to friendships. You are the core person you are no matter what age you are.

I have another very fabulous friend, Janet, who by contrast, is two decades older than me. She likes to jokingly refer to herself in my presence as “Your favourite old-age pensioner”. Janet is the rare kind of person – there really are not that many of them – who honestly does command a room every time she walks into it. She is one of the funniest, warmest, most unconventional people I have ever met, and she has similarly charmed every one of my friends over time. Janet dresses in bright shalwar kameez, dyes her spiky hair blonde, thinks cooking is a waste of time, has a guru, and is one of the best storytellers I know.

I can’t imagine ever not being friends with Janet, any more than I can imagine not being friends with Helen, or Medb, or Jen. I float right in the middle of their decades and lived lives so far: two friends a lot older than me, two friends a lot younger. These are all indescribably rich friendships in their very different ways.

At my kitchen table that evening last week, my friends and I discussed the idea of “age fluidity” when it came to friendships. We hear that word “fluidity” a lot more these days, quite often in reference to gender. But many things in our lives that are important can be fluid. There is no rule that says our most important friendships all have to be only with those people we happened to meet in school or college: people our own age.

I am so grateful to also have these other friendships in my life, with people both older and younger

Of course I have plenty of other friends who are of my vintage, and those are relationships to also treasure, but for different reasons. We have shared histories. We knew each other before we met our partners, before children arrived, before we made choices that led to careers, before we left behind young adulthood, and became the people we are now. Those relationships anchor us somewhere in the past.

I cherish those friendships, but I am so grateful to also have these other friendships in my life, with people both older and younger. It has made my life so much richer. Here’s to “age fluidity” in all our friendships.