There is a narrative that generational warfare is increasingly common in our divided world: the Brexit schism of older leavers and young remainers; the middle-aged property investors whose mortgages are paid by generation rent. Then there’s the explosion of tech and shifting cultural values that lead to head-scratching and eye-rolling; each generation bitches about the one below it, we’re told, treating the one above with an unfair disdain. But this is not something I recognise in my own life. I have some brilliant friends, and I count myself especially fortunate that they are from all generations.
I had my 30th birthday in August, which I freaked out about in a way I did not expect; but it was glorious to see so many pals together in one place. I can’t remember any other recent setting where people with decades between them were introducing themselves, chatting and drinking: 60-year-old mates asking a mid-20s couple who they vote for; two football fans, one born the year the other went to his first game, aged 19; me, being mocked by some people for being ridiculously young, and by others for being “ancient now”.
Having friends from a single age group is like going to an ice-cream parlour, ordering three scoops, and picking the same flavour for each. Here’s a guide to what makes my friends from each generation special. As the great R&B philosopher Aaliyah said: age ain’t nothing but a number.
The silent generation: ‘They can dole out advice about what matters in life and what really, really doesn’t’
You may not have come across the term “silent generation”, but that makes it all the more apt. The Pew Research Center defines its members as being born between 1928 and 1945 – a time when children, their parents struggling through the Great Depression and the second world war, were expected to be seen and not heard, and when individuals came of age in an period of austerity.
The mid-70s crew at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond can dole out advice about what matters and what really, really doesn’t
I don’t have lots of friends who fall into this category. But I have a few – enough for me to quibble with the “silent” description. The best thing about the mid-70s crew that hang out at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond in north London, for instance, is that they have experienced so much, and can dole out advice about what matters in life and what really, really doesn’t. A lot of this wisdom is shared while naked, tits akimbo (appearance is one of the things that I am reliably informed does not matter).
The other pals in this age range I have collected from places where age is disregarded – when travelling or in psychiatric wards (mosquito attacks and mental breakdown are both great levellers). A shoutout here to Nancy, a mid-70s expat artist who nursed me through a horrid cold in her casbah on the Morocco-Algeria border.
The baby boomers: ‘We hang out at their houses because of the sash windows and the Agas that warm the kitchens’
It has been estimated that boomers (born between 1946–1964) are 17 times wealthier than my generation, the millennials. If intergenerational tensions were to come into play, it would most likely be with this cohort. However, it actually works out well: for example, when my boomer friends offer to get more rounds in, or waive theatre ticket reimbursements. We mostly hang out at their houses, because of the beautifully restored sash windows and the Agas that warm the kitchens.
One benefit of having friends who were teens or young adults when some of my favourite music and art was produced is hearing their tales; why listen to Q magazine-reading lads at house parties bang on about Dylan going electric when I have friends who were actually there, or who rushed out to buy Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures on its release?
People in this age group are often embarking on new stages in their own lives: retiring or divorcing, their kids leaving for university or the world of work. There is a mutual bond of: “What the hell are we going to do with our lives?” Also good for: borrowing books and long walks in nature; debating everything; and shamefully crying on their shoulders.
Generation X: ‘Their kids, if they have them, are old enough not to be boring’
Perhaps half of my social circle (and a significant number of exes) come from this group, usually defined as born between 1965 to 1980. Criticised in their youth for being directionless slackers, as exemplified in Richard Linklater’s 1991 film, um, Slacker, perhaps they sympathise with the slurs aimed at my generation.
They come out for prosecco and to grill me about my life, which mostly they imagine to be more exciting than it is
My Gen X friends are great fun. On the rare occasions when they have babysitters, they grab the opportunity to come out for prosecco and to grill me about my life, which mostly they imagine to be more exciting than it is. They will come to galleries with me and not spend the entire time on their phones; their kids, if they have them, are usually old enough not to be boring. Because most Gen X folk are still working, they are often great colleagues who can give and take advice, swap gossip and (in the case of those with senior positions, who have smashed it) serve as inspirations. They will also come for strolls and brunch on Sunday mornings when my younger friends are still hungover in bed. X marks the spot.
Millennials: ‘Traduced as snowflakes for daring to want a stable place to live, we pull together’
I was born in 1989, almost bang in the middle of the millennial birth range of 1981 to 1996. As soldiers on the frontline of getting utterly screwed over by a clearly discriminatory economic system, we are a close-knit bunch. Constantly traduced as “snowflakes” for daring to want a stable place to live, or for the diva demand of eradicating prejudice, we pull together.
We are the only generation to have grown up in the transitional phase between offline and online. That’s quite a big thing, given how much the rapid advancement of tech has changed the world. Nostalgia is common, and any article about a 90s throwback will be popular: dial-up internet; jelly shoes; Pogs; Nokia 3310s. It isn’t that long ago, but it’s a different world.
In line with the boom in spending on experiences rather than material things, my twentysomething and thirtysomething friends and I enjoy new activities and restaurants, swimming and weekends away, laughing for days. We will be there for one another: looking out for each other’s mental health; cheering one another’s achievements in the WhatsApp groups; arranging, rearranging and then finally having drinks; working through our identities; and, when romantic relationships crumble, slagging a pal’s ex off indiscriminately before they inevitably get back together.
Generation Z: ‘I appreciate their wit and creativity. I do not appreciate them asking me what a CD is’
I don’t have many Gen Z friends (1997 onwards), because they are all busy making hilarious videos on TikTok. I cannot tell you the number of times tears have filled my eyes laughing at the online content made by today’s teens. The buddies I do have from this group, I mostly communicate with on social media: Instagram or, more often, Twitter. They are more acquaintances than true friends, but I appreciate their wit and creativity. I do not appreciate them asking me what a CD is.
They’re an inspiring bunch, leading the fight against global heating, and holding our politicians to account. I try to offer younger friends advice and help them out – as my older pals do for me; possibly, I act as a cautionary tale. I have always gravitated towards people older than I am, but the kids are definitely all right.
You can see, then, that expanding one’s social circle to include all ages is the way to go. Photographed together, I don’t want my friends to resemble an over-50s life insurance advert, nor an influencer post of mid-20s giggles. I want friends who perform in rap battles on the weekends, but also friends who browse garden centres. I want friends who listen to no other station than Classic FM, and friends who quote freely from Mean Girls. (And don’t assume that the former are my older friends and the latter my peers.)
In the past, I have not encouraged these groups to intermingle. But following the success of my birthday, I may make more of an effort to mix and match. Generational warfare? Fake news, mate.
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