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Mining the Gap : Friends Considerably Younger or Older Have Much to Offer, O.C. Counselors and Others Agree

June 01, 1994|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Pati Gosnell needs fashion advice, she turns to her good friend and employee Alicia Bugg. The women help each other out and share many common interests. What they don't share is similar ages.

Gosnell, 50, is more than twice Bugg's age and could biologically be her mother. Yet their relationship has few similarities to a mother-daughter union.

"We're on equal footing as far as our friendship," says Bugg, 24, a floral designer at Gosnell's Orange flower shop, Regal Flowers. "Age doesn't really factor in. We both give each other advice and ideas on a variety of subjects, like any friends would."

Gosnell agrees. "I would describe our relationship as a true friendship. We both have the same values and often have inspiring conversations. We've also learned a great deal from one another."

This has been Gosnell's first friendship with someone younger than she, and she's found the experience enlightening.

"To be quite honest, the last person I expected to learn from was someone half my age. Alicia has a lot of insight and maturity for a young person. She is an open, friendly person who can adapt herself to any age group."

Flexibility and openness are two major attributes of individuals who have friends considerably younger or older than themselves, says Laguna Hills marriage, family, child counselor Vivian Clecak. "Such people aren't caught up in stereotypes and how things appear on the outside," she says. "They have varied lifestyles and don't live in an age ghetto where all they meet are people of the same age and life stage."

Having friends of varying ages gives people a richer life perspective, says Clecak, who has one friend 25 years younger and another 25 years older than herself. "Most of us live with a fairly narrow perception of the world," she says. "Having an older friend is insightful. It gives you a model and makes the road ahead a little easier. Younger friends are also inspiring in that they allow you to recapture and maintain your sense of youthfulness. They also give you the nostalgic pleasure of reclaiming the roads you've already traveled."

On the minus side, because of the age difference, there is a certain level of vulnerability involved with such friendships, says Clecak.

"When you have an older friend, you risk losing him or her to death, and younger friends' lives sometimes change. They may move away or shift their priorities," she says.

Despite the downside, there are many people who find large age-difference friendships fulfilling. "No matter what people look like on the outside, they can still share the same feelings and interests and appreciate life's commonalities," says Clecak.

*

Ever since he can remember, Roger Angle, 55, has had friends of many different ages, but it has never been intentional. "I choose my friends because of who they are, not how old they are," he says.

Angle attributes the age differences of his friends to his constant search for interesting people. "I live a pretty isolated life," says the unmarried Angle, who lives in Costa Mesa. "I'm always curious about people who have lives very different from my own. In some ways I think I enjoy living vicariously through my friends."

One of Angle's good friends is Nathan Rynn, 70, a professor of physics at UC Irvine. He and Angle met through a salon, took a liking to one another and struck up a friendship over the last year and a half. Every week they meet at a restaurant for lunch.

Although Rynn and Angle are at very different points in life--Rynn is considering retirement and Angle has recently changed careers from a marketing consultant to a full-time crime/suspense novelist--the two men always have a lot to talk about.

"Nat is a scientist who researches things that I couldn't possibly begin to comprehend, but there are similarities in our careers," says Angle. "My writing and his research are creative outlets that require a lot of solitary time and discovery. He's very much in favor of research for the sake of knowledge, and I really respect his integrity. He also keeps himself in very good physical shape; I hope to be in such great shape when I'm his age."

Rynn agrees that he and Angle have a lot in common.

"Although we lead very different lives, Roger and I have a compatible view of life," says Rynn. "We have roughly similar ideas about things such as politics and social issues, which are the sort of things that make up the fiber of a friendship."

Rynn says that he never had a younger friend before Angle.

"I thought I was a really open guy, but this has opened me up even more to all kinds of people and different ways of life," he says. "I have made another younger friend since meeting Roger, and I don't think that before I would have been open to the relationship."

At times Rynn finds himself giving Angle advice on various matters. "I've already been through some of the things that Roger is experiencing, and I'm always glad to give him any help I can," he says.

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