Why are nearly all of my friends significantly older than I am?
and I can hardly buy a beer…
If you’re “young and wild and free” but struggle to relate to those your age, maybe you’ll find solace (or something) in what I’m writing.
I moved to San Francisco when I was seventeen years old (I’m twenty-one years old, now) to study documentary filmmaking.
I’ll start with some context: my parents divorced close to the beginning of my studies and I found myself in a situation where my parents were unable to support me financially through my studies due to their own complications, which is another topic that I will probably never have the patience or honest complexity to write about.
When I moved to San Francisco I lived in a large two bedroom apartment with four other people- I shared a room with one other girl and had three male housemates in the master bedroom. The space was a typical students house- IKEA kitchenwares, odd furniture from wherever we could find it, ‘art’ hung on the wall with tape or glue to ensure we didn’t get our deposit back. We were all under twenty years old, and I was the youngest; not significantly, but when you’re 17, 18, 19 years old, often the difference is significant.
A disclaimer to begin; in my experience on this planet, I have found that age is fleeting and occasionally (refreshingly) insignificant, I was recently humbled to losing a long chess game with an eleven year old, and I, who thought I knew enough strategies to get me through games and impress amateurs, had my ass kicked.
The first semester of school I was working full time in order to pay the crazy San Francisco rent (even sharing a room…) as well as attending school as a full time student. This first semester may have been the first critical turning point. I loved my housemates, but as many housemates feel when they move into a cohabitation for the first time with people they do not well know in an intimate space, I felt some hostility. I am not OCD, or anything of the like, but the simplest way I can explain my living ideals was and is this:
If a space is untidy, dirty, or cluttered, I am not comfortable. My housemates were not wildly messy, though at the time I thought they were, before visiting other houses in the neighborhood with students our age. Now, I know tidiness isn’t something that inherently improves with age, but for the most part I saw my standards of living to be significantly different, and the first step towards feeling disconnected not only with my housemates but with other students living in our primarily student neighborhood.
I believe this is some sort of proverb, but it was my mantra when trying to fall asleep at night thinking about the mess in every space but my corner:
Be like a lotus: at peace in muddy water.
I was poor; I did not have a lot of things, I kept my space extremely minimal, and this helped me feel clear headed. This is a quality I’ve certainly kept, and didn’t necessarily decide to feel that way, and again, not an age thing, I know plenty of ‘adult’ hoarders..! (bless them)
I’m not writing to discuss my craigslist-standard-ad as a housemate or cohabiter, but living with students my age and relying on them for the minimums; rent, a comfortable space, respect, and occasionally more, companionship, company, etc. forced me to consider, for the first time, variables of value, common ground, and shared beliefs, that I initially failed to find, not only in my housemates, but many of my peers.
What really put sand between the bricks, or the sort of ‘hostitlity’ was the difference in understanding of time, trust, value, and responsibility.
When you are working weekends and virtually every other day of the week, studying five days/week, in class four days/week and spending the rest of your time trying for meaningful rest and something to make you smile, you feel a sort of immunity of those who (in the context of a student apartment, apply where relevant)
a. have plenty of time and waste it (you’ve left at 6AM, you’re back at 4PM for a snack and they’re still asleep)
b. have plenty of time and don’t value yours (you have this one friday evening to grab dinner, they’re two hours late and you could have been studying)
c. take your time and disrespect yours (you’re up early and go to sleep at midnight, at 2AM you hear friends come over and make noise in common space all night, you haven’t slept thirty minutes straight)
This comes from a lack of understanding, experience, and empathy that often a privleged 18 year old student does not possess.
Another disclaimer; I will not explore, for the purpose of this writing, the spectrum of student privilege, but if we could define it as: a student who’s emotional, financial, and educational standing is in the hands, or shared, with a benefactor, who relies completely on this benefactor, and refuses or disregards a lifestyle that does not maximize the comforts and privileges of this shared dependency and security.
It’s not necessarily responsibility, although being responsible includes being trustworthy. Trust means putting confidence in the words you say to someone; trusting someone’s judgement to make a decision that is right; trust that one will not perform in malice or negligence out of curiosity of such actions.
I touched on this earlier. I want friends who value my time, value my work, and value my personality. When you’re young, anyone you stumble upon and spend time with could be your friend. I’ve found that those older than I am take more time to decide who fits their circles, who is truly beneficial to their life, who nourishes their souls, and offer something mutually beneficial into their lives. There’s no time for anything else; no time for drama, no time for bullshit, and no time for abuse or disrespect. That being said, friends I’ve made who are older than I am are significantly more forgiving. We all makes mistakes, and when we understand character and truly love our friends, we forgive them, not for the sake of keeping a body around and disrespecting ourselves, but out of patience, understanding, appreciation and love for those who earned their spots in our lives. This goes both ways; friends I’ve made that are older than I am have also taught me, not only through example, but through ‘babying’ me, respectfully, to love yourself enough to not take things personally, and prioritise myself in relationships that are not mutually beneficial.
When you are responsible, you do what you need to do, and there’s nothing else said about it. I remember the first year living in San Francisco having to hustle and work late shifts in order to pay rent. Sure, I could have called out to attend the fun things my friends and housemates were doing, but that would put me in a position of being late on rent, on bad terms with my boss, and a disappointment to myself. I really want to stress that I love to have a good time, love to relax, be silly, and value living life with leisure and pleasure. But I also take responsibility for my actions, and don’t play a game if I can’t keep up. My first year I lived with students that received an allowance for lifestyle costs: what bothered and offended me was that I would have to ask multiple times when and why rent wasn’t paid and why bills were late, and something simple like ‘I forgot, it’s not a big deal, I’ll get to it later’ would occur. Uh…? I’d rather not risk telling a collection agency ‘I’ll get to it later.’.
Beyond monetary responsibility, this comes back into the trust aspect again: I want friends that I can count on. If someone asks me to pick them up at 5PM at the airport at terminal 2, I will be there. 5PM. Airport terminal 2. And I want to know people who would do the same. Things come up, but the difference is individuals ability to communicate.
Having friends that are older than you is inspiring, encouraging, and motivating. You benefit from the experience of those who have lived longer than you, learn from their wisdom, and break the boundary of separation. You are exposed to another generation of culture, interests, mannerisms, points of view… As a student, you are uplifted and encouraged by those who have come to love you and your ambitions, intimately watch you and support you as you struggle, fail, and succeed, and learn to value and embody elements of maturity, class and eloquence that comes with being a ‘grown-up’ with the cushion of the ‘I’m only 21' excuse that you’ll find tastes worse and worse each time you use it.
There are certainly cons, though…in reality, and considering the sustainability of generations, yours is yours. Those older than you will have children, grandchildren, experience graduations, weddings, divorces, births, funerals…things you can be part of, but only remotely. When your generation ‘catches up’, there will be so much you’ve missed, so much you thought you were better than…you may look back at your early twenties and think, geez, why couldn’t I have been more relaxed, let go, lived in the moment and played the part. What was I trying to prove, and to whom? You will strattle two generations, and never feel completely immersed in either. You are an immigrant in the land of generation ‘older’, and an exile by choice of generation ‘yours’.
The challenge is to learn to embrace both; how to mesh them? I don’t know. Should you? It’s certainly a challenge and awkward for both parties. The more we see, the less we know. All we can do is love fiercely, care for and learn from one another, and try to be our best selves and not let age define us, or those around us.