Different generations can enjoy camaraderie

Chris May and Pat Flatley have more than three decades between them. They are products of different societies, different wars. Their lives have been shaped by different hardships and expectations.

Yet, sitting under the shade of an oak tree twice their combined age, the conversation is easy; the caring is palpable. And the years between the men melt away.

"Pat and I are a couple of sweaty, blue collar, golf-playing dudes," said May, practicing his swing at the Walnut Creek, Calif., Boundary Oak Golf Course during a round with his older friend.

Often, friendships emerge when people are in the same life stage. Whether they meet at school or work, they are usually similar in age and relate to each other. But, as many adults are learning, having friends from different generations can be just as satisfying, if not illuminating. Imagine time with your favorite relative, without the baggage of expectations or family dynamics.

Take May and Flatley. Flatley is 71, a retired composite salesman and grandfather of 13, married to his high school sweetheart. May, 36, works as a translator for the deaf. He is single and nurturing his business.

They met on the course a year ago, but their friendship quickly moved to slices at Rocco's, and barbecues with friends.

When Flatley's grandchildren expressed interest in a summer sign language class, May helped them find one, and score As. When May had a conflict with a friend, Flatley doled out advice.

"I probably hand out more than he wants to hear," Flatley said, joking.

To this, May grows serious, and disagrees. Rather, he values Flatley's endless insights.

"Pat's real and gives great advice," May explains. "People in my own peer group are mostly concerned with getting ahead and what other people think. When Pat said `how are you?' he doesn't just want to hear `fine.' If I had a bad day, I can actually tell him. He wants to know."

May said Flatley and other friends he has of varying ages enrich his life.

"I find that I get the most out of life from spending time with people who come at it from different lenses," he said.

These friendships add novelty and richness to people's lives, said Judith Beery, a Berkeley, Calif., psychologist who recalls her father's advice to make friends with people of all ages.

Otherwise, he would say, it can get depressing: for one, the chances of losing them at the same time are greater. Also, if you're the same age you're more likely to have similar perspectives, and talk the same subjects into the ground.

But in an intergenerational friendship, the older person can start out as a mentor and end up a friend, Beery points out. Meanwhile, the younger person brings variety and perspective to the relationship.

"People who are friends with people their own age often are friends by circumstance," Beery explains. "What you have in common with them is your routine. If everyone's working at the same level, whether trying to buy a house or raise the perfect child, there can be more inherent potential for competition."

There's no shred of competition between Alicia Lucas and Graciela Guerrero-Reynoso. The women met at Curves in Concord, Calif., a few years ago. Lucas is 21 and studies psychology at San Francisco State University. Guerrero-Reynoso, 53, is an office manager for an accounting firm. She has three grown children, all older than Lucas.

Over dinner or at the gym, the women share fitness and weight loss goals. Lucas talks to Guerrero-Reynoso about friends and dating. Guerrero-Reynoso tells Lucas about her crippling arthritis, and caring for her aunt, who is ill. They listen to each other, with intention.

"It seems like I've known her forever, that's how I feel with her," Guerrero-Reynoso said. "She's so compassionate. She is the most wonderful listener. She has such respect for confidentiality, and I think that's difficult to find."

Lucas believes their bond has little to do with age. It's their personalities, she said, that click.

"She's fun and spirited and caring," Lucas explains. "Plus there's a commonality to strive to be a better person. Graciela's gone through a lot in her life. She has wisdom and maturity and can listen without being cynical."

Guerrero-Reynoso said it might be easier for Lucas to "accept scolding" from her, rather than from her own parents.

"I may tell her the same thing, but she may listen more attentively," she explains. "It's different in that respect because she's not mine."

Likewise, Lucas helps Guerrero-Reynoso understand today's youth, and in turn relate to her own children.

"She's taken the time to teach me how to send a text message and that's something my kids haven't done," she said.

As we get older, age ceases to be a reason for friendship, said Denny Reynolds, a Walnut Creek, Calif., psychologist. Rather, it's a matter of common interests, and connecting. While it's hard to imagine a 15- year-old having a friend who's 30, Reynolds explains, it's not hard to imagine a 30-year-old having a friend who's 45.

"People who feel connected feel connected regardless of age," Reynolds said. "You either click with someone or you don't."

The bond between Lucas and Guerrero-Reynoso is so strong that the older woman has no doubt the younger will be there for her. Always.

"I know that in my old age, Alicia will be around to help me," she said. "I believe that in my heart."