Susan Good was sitting with a group of women at her home in Palm Springs, Calif., when one of them began lamenting the difficulties of aging. But it wasn’t the usual script about aches, pains and skyrocketing cholesterol levels.
“She said that she felt invisible,” recalled Good, who is in her 70s. Silenced, unseen, as if she had nothing to contribute to the world.
Other women in the room echoed the same feelings.
“These were all women who had college degrees, were married or had a significant other, were well traveled and led very nice lifestyles, but every one of them felt invisible,” she said.
The word continued to haunt her, and she wondered if she could help address this prevalent feeling. In 2015 Good (whose nickname is “Honey”), created a website for women 50 and older, HoneyGood.com, which offers advice on everything from pedicures to the stock market to grandparenting.
She also started Moxie!: a free private social network on her website where women could bond across generations.
Good’s Moxie group is one of a handful of informal, intergenerational women’s gatherings that have started recently in cities around the country. Unlike the Lean In circles started by Sheryl Sandberg, which tended to focus on career, these groups are filling a necessary void: As a January 2018 J. Walter Thompson trend report of women 53 to 72 noted, women in this age group are usually overlooked or ignored.
In most other countries, young and old freely mix together, with several generations often living under one roof. But in the United States, that mostly happens in the workplace. Even so, millennials and baby boomers tend to stick with their same-aged cohort, rarely associating out of the office.
“A lot of people think if they’re mothers they can only be friends with mothers; if they’re single they can only hang out with single people,” said Shasta Nelson, 41, author of “Friendtimacy.” “But research suggests that it doesn’t matter what commonality we have, only that we find a couple of commonalities.”
According to Nelson, only three things are necessary for a relationship to flourish: positivity (it has to feel good); consistency (you have to be in touch on a regular basis); and vulnerability (you have to feel safe with each other). None of them has to do with age.
Ten years ago, Nelson created GirlFriend Circles, a kind of match.com for women to meet. She later started Travel Circles, which helps women of all ages take trips to meet other women around the world.
Angela Wilkinson, 48, a self-described “suburban housewife in Middle America” (in this case, Marion, Iowa), went to Greece, Italy, Rwanda and Peru with Nelson. With two sons now in their early 20s, one of whom has special needs, Wilkinson said she always felt isolated at home, and unable to meet new people.
“It’s hard to make friends as an adult,” she said. “I didn’t have friends who were older or younger.”
On her trips with Nelson, she became close with two women: one of whom is 13 years older than she is, another who is 14 years younger. They have remained in touch and have even taken other vacations together.
“What helped bridge the age gap with friendship is when you’re in a new situation or uncomfortable in some way — it’s just a great equalizer,” Wilkinson said. “We’re all in the same boat. On these trips everyone’s on these new situations. The age goes out the window.”
Acceptance and guidance
Some participants find these sorts of intergenerational gatherings comforting in a divisive political climate. Younger women are seeking solace in the assurance of older women, who have lived through political uncertainty or wartime, that everything will be OK. Older women appreciate the passion and drive of younger women in case everything isn’t.
“I’m blown away by their emotional sills and self-awareness,” said Christine Mulvey, 60, a writer in Nevada City, Calif., who attends annual Honey Root Embodiment Gathering intergenerational retreats (no relation to Honey Good). “Things I came to in my 40s and 50s, young women are coming to so much earlier. I find permission to be themselves and to be creative in them that just thrills me. I’m delighted by it. Their hunger for real connection and depth, their passion for the world.”
“And then there’s a darker side to that,” Mulvey said. “The passion that I see in them can slip into a kind of despair. There’s something about being older and having been through a number of cycles from different eras that kind of holds the despair at bay, and also calls it into a sense of how important it is that they show up and engage.”
“I think our younger members have an understanding that, strangely, not everyone does; that one day they will be older women, and that we’re all responsible for creating a society that honors older women,” said Devorah Bry, 40, the founder of HoneyRoot.
“The dominant culture tells you that when you get to a certain age you can’t be included anymore,” Bry said. “It’s cool to see certain people who say, ‘I don’t want you to see my age, I want you to see my age and spirit.’ Then other people who are in the same room who want you to acknowledge that ‘I’m older and living in a different type of body now, I want to be honored that I have life experience now.’ It’s really about paying attention. We’re all going to get to the end of our life.”
Jessica Arnold, 30, started going to HoneyRoot two years ago. She was feeling adrift, and worried about the country.
“I really felt I needed more connection with older people, especially politically — I feel really lost,” Arnold said. “But I also have this sense that history repeats itself and that it’s a continuum that has happened throughout history. I need the guidance and remembrance that times like these have happened before and to keep your eyes set on something greater.”