Sex Relationships

Big age gap friendships - when your best friend could be your mum (but isn't your mum)

These four women prove that when it comes to friendship, age is but a number.

By Sharon Stephenson

It was a weekly ritual: every Thursday night we'd meet at Margaret's lavish London flat to drink gin, eat chocolate biscuits and giggle like schoolgirls. I first met Margaret, who lived above the rented flat I shared with six others, when she complained about our loud party; she ended up being the last to leave.

It wasn't a conventional friendship: Margaret was 58 and I was 25. We had nothing in common except a postcode. I was newly sprung from New Zealand on my OE and Margaret spoke four languages, had travelled to places I couldn't even pronounce and had a wardrobe full of designer dresses and handbags (which she kindly let me borrow).

Even though I wasn't born when Margaret got married, somehow the age gap melted away: she would thrill me with stories of her former life as a diplomat, while I would make her laugh with my 20-something angst.

"Having a younger friend helps me feel younger and allows me to discover new things," the widow, who never had children, said as I helped set up her email account.

For her part, Margaret would dispense wise advice, tell me to relax and promise that the bloke who cheated on me wasn't worth my tears and that I would forget him in a few years (true and truer).

Of course, cutting across the age divide had its issues – I would stare blankly at her when she mentioned not being able to get a bank loan without a male relative's approval and she'd do the same when I raved about seeing the band Blur (it was the 90s after all). But gradually Margaret stopped being my older neighbour and became a friend, someone who brought a new perspective.

"Bridging the age gap not only increases the friend pool, it can also broaden your perspective," says American writer Anna Kudak, co-author of the book, What Happy Women Do.

"Our lives tend to be age-segregated, because we have a greater likelihood of coming into contact with people like ourselves at work and in our social lives," says Anna.

"But friendships outside our age group can be hugely rewarding – for example, older friends can share the benefit of wisdom while a younger friend can bring a wider understanding of a different generation's mindset and challenges."

She's right: according to a British survey last year, almost all over-55s and under-25s spoken to reported that spending time with someone from a different generation was rewarding.

Sadly, I lost contact with Margaret when I moved back to New Zealand but I will never forget our friendship, which so easily cut across the decades.

Here, we speak to four women who also haven't let age stand in the way of their friendship.

Image above is a stock image - author not pictured.

Georgia Munn and Poppy Dodge

Georgia (left), and Poppy
Georgia (left), and Poppy

It was a vintage orange dress that did it. Marketing consultant Georgia Munn wore the outfit on her first day at children's event space Capital E, where it caught the eye of colleague Poppy Dodge.

"Georgia looked amazing and then I met her and realised her personality matched her fashion style," says Poppy, an artist and mother of sons Townsend, 11, and Quincy, nine.

"How could you not love someone with Georgia's energy and spirit?"

Despite the almost 20-year age gap, the pair became best friends and, what they like to call 'work wives'.

"We sat next to each other at work, ate lunch together and chatted all day," says Georgia, 26.

"We share the same sense of humour, a love of true crime podcasts and a willingness to give anything a go." When Georgia's six-month contract ended, Poppy says work no longer felt the same and a few months later she too left, taking the plunge into full-time art.

"I'm old enough to be Georgia's mother but our ages are irrelevant," says Poppy, 44. "Friendships are about more than how many candles you have on your birthday cake."

Poppy on Georgia:
"I moved around the US a lot as child so I know how hard it can be to make friends. But in 2013 my husband got a job at Weta and we moved from California to Wellington. We're lucky that Kiwis are so friendly and this is home now. Two years ago I met Georgia at work and I can't imagine life without her.

Georgia is one of the most positive people I've met. She has this quiet confidence which I find really appealing in a person. She's also hilarious; we spend most of our time together laughing. Both of us are similar in that we've always got a side hustle going – me selling my art and Georgia selling vintage dresses.

I've lost count of the number of activities Georgia is involved in – she's always learning and doing something new. I've learned so much about New Zealand from her and she's always suggesting places I should visit. Last Christmas, for example, she suggested we take the kids to New Plymouth, which I've always wanted to visit.

The only time I'm aware of the age difference is when I can't meet up with Georgia at short notice. Juggling work and kids can make that kind of spontaneity hard. We do, however, manage to see each other as often as possible, usually late night sessions with lots of wine.

I'm grateful to Georgia for teaching me about bands like Disasteradio and for encouraging me to become a full-time artist and weaving teacher. I don't think I could have done it without her support."

Georgia on Poppy:
"Poppy and I couldn't be more different – she has a husband, kids and lives in the suburbs, she's American and has had all these exciting adventures. I was born in Christchurch and moved to Wellington for university and now live with my partner Jack and three flatmates in an inner-city apartment.

But we both have this insatiable curiosity about the world and always have heaps of projects on the go, from learning Te Reo to selling vintage dresses.

We also share a love of 60s, 70s and 80s music so I recently I invited Poppy and her husband Mike to a party at our flat. She was worried she would be the oldest person there but no one cared and Poppy and Mike got on fabulously with my friends.

I'd seen Poppy's work on Instragram before we met and knew she was a crazy talented artist. I was drawn to her creativity and energy, because I always have some kind of craft project on the go. I did one of her weaving workshops and it was so fantastic I encouraged her to become a full-time artist and weaving teacher and I'm so glad she's now doing what she loves.

The only thing with our friendship is we have to plan catch-ups in advance because Poppy can't be as spontaneous as my friends without kids. So I can't ring her up and say, let's meet in 10 minutes for a drink, or let's go for a swim after work, because she has family responsibilities. And I totally understand that. I love Poppy's kids and she's the kind of mother I'd like to be one day.

She's a great role model and I hope when I'm her age I'll have as much energy and creativity as she has."

Ginny Maddock and Tania Siladi

When Wellington restaurateur/homewares store owner Tania Siladi recently turned 50, her former staff member-now-best-friend Ginny Maddock, 32, sent her a card inscribed with the words: 'Happy halfway to 100'.

"I didn't know whether to hug her or yell at her," laughs Tania. "But that's Ginny – direct, honest and with a wicked sense of humour."

The two met when Tania and her brother Brent opened Dragonfly Restaurant in 2012. Ginny, who was completing a photography degree, applied for a part-time waitressing job. Their friendship was, they say, a slow burn but when Ginny became Dragonfly's full-time manager for four years, the pair saw each other almost every day and soon bonded over a love of style, fashion and good food.

Six months ago, Ginny left to set up her own photography studio and although the BFFs now only see each once a week, their bond is as strong as ever.

"Even though we're at different stages of our lives and have had vastly different experiences, age isn't an issue for either of us," says Ginny. "When you click with someone, it doesn't matter how old or young they are."

Tania on Ginny:
"I've always had older friends who I looked to for their experience. All through my career – from modelling in Hong Kong to working in New York and getting into the restaurant industry – I've been lucky enough to have older friends mentor me. So I've always tried to do the same with younger staff.

My brother hired Ginny but I remember the first time I met her at a training session before the restaurant opened. She was sassy and super-confident and I remember thinking, 'Is this girl going to be trouble or is she going to be great?'

But it soon became apparent Ginny is good at whatever she turns her hand to. We really gelled when I needed to get some photos done of my daughter Jenna [now 16; Tania also has an 18-year-old son, Brendan]. I asked Ginny as I'd seen some of her work and loved her eye and attention to detail.

We also bonded over shoes as my partner Don owns a Wellington shoe shop. I love Ginny's style. She's a useful barometer of what I can and can't wear.

There were times when it was hard to be not only her friend but also her employer. Ginny cries at the drop of a hat and once I told her off for something at work and she burst into tears. I felt horrible for making her cry.

In a reversal of the typical age gap, I've taught Ginny how to use software editing/design packages. She did the photos for the Dragonfly cookbook and we spent hours designing it. In return, she's taught me what millennials are thinking and what they like, which is useful in the food business. Although Ginny sometimes calls me Mum and I'm definitely the more dominant one in this relationship.

These days, we're daytime friends – we meet for lunch or to shop. I'm often too tired to go out drinking at night, which Ginny understands. She has friends her own age to do that with. It can be hard when family commitments mean I can't see Ginny but she loves my kids and understands motherhood comes first. I'm honoured to call her my friend."

Ginny on Tania:
"When I first met Tania I thought she was scary because she would come into the restaurant and notice tiny things that needed our attention. But when I got to know her, I realised she's just really detail-focused.

Tania is incredibly savvy and driven. She's also funny and honest and I respect her opinions on everything from politics to shoes. She always gives great advice and she's the first person I go to when I have an issue. She's also taught me how to read people and manage staff, two qualities that have been useful in the restaurant and in my own business.

The great thing about our friendship is that Tania is like my de-facto mother, but without the nagging and judgement! She is such a cool mother to her two kids.

I understand Tania has family responsibilities and can't drop everything at short notice to hang out. Having said that, she's still more reliable than most of my friends my age! I'm happy to work around her availability.

I've always been quite an emotional person and wherever something went wrong at work my default setting was to get upset. Tania would calm me down and help me put things into perspective. She's a really calming influence.I'm in awe of how many businesses Tania juggles, I don't know where she finds the energy. Watching her, I've learned a lot about the secrets of running a successful business, so in that sense, she's my mentor as well as my friend. I can honestly say I'd like to be like her when I grow up!"

read more from