What’s age got to do with it?

“If you would like me to accompany you to an event, I would be happy to.”

These words were directed to me from a young European man I met in my Italian class. He is 23 and I am 58.

After the initial thrill, I was aghast as I am old enough to be his mother! I could never consider the idea of a friendship between us due to our extreme age difference.

What would people think of me? After all, he probably thinks I am a wealthy “cougar” desperate for affection, and I am thinking he is up to no good.

No doubt you have an unfavourable opinion about Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s upcoming nuptials with a woman 60 years his junior. We are simultaneously appalled and fascinated by it. May-to-December relationships are frowned upon in our society. But who says these relationships always have to do with romance or sex? Are we not falling into that stereotypical trap of ageist thinking which further promotes a disconnect between the generations?

We have a lot to lose as we witness the disintegration of intergenerational involvement, for we can learn so much from each other. Our deeply entrenched ageist attitudes and stereotypes are evident in the way older people are dismissed as no longer being useful, vital members of our communities.

And, in the same way, youth – by virtue of their tender age and inexperience – are not taken seriously.

By the year 2015, according to Statistics Canada, there are going to be more Canadians over the age of 45 than those under the age of 15. And too often these two groups don’t interact with each other. The younger generations are plugged into their iPhones and the older generation is often socially isolated.

Our western society feeds into this isolation as we segregate our elders into nursing homes where they are further marginalized and ghettoized. Or into self-imposed gated retirement communities or age-restricted apartment buildings. Or living at home alone.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted a Framework for Positive Aging which promotes intergenerational social interaction.

In Canada, the federal government has promised to invest $10 million for intergenerational programs across Canada over the next two years.

Conversely, we Zoomers can learn so much from the technical-savvy youth who can teach us about social media.

And having more child daycares in Canada sharing the same space as residential-care facilities would provide an equally stimulating and mutually beneficial experience for both generations.

Here, the B.C. Care Providers Association and the Ministry of Healthy Living has released a guide for communities to develop grassroots projects to promote intergenerational engagement. And South Surrey Recreational Centre has an active gardening project which unites green thumbs of all ages.

So in the spirit of our collective struggle against ageism, we Zoomers propose a more inclusive model of life which includes people of all ages talking to each other, sharing with each other and learning from each other.

As for those oft-maligned May-December relationships… my 23-year-old has asked me out for a drink!

April Lewis is the local communications director for CARP, a national group committed to a ‘New Vision of Aging for Canada.’ She writes monthly.