Exactly 20 years ago, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton introduced us to the idea of the single-serving friend. In their seminal film Fight Club, released in 1999, the concept that you could have a substantive connection with somebody on an airplane, or at a party, and then never ever see them again became salient.
Is it really possible to have deep and meaningful conversations with strangers, and, like a single-serve cookie on a plane – delicious, enjoyable, and finite – never repeat them again?
It's a tough challenge in our social media-connected world, because most conversations with new people end with "what's your Insta?" (or, 10 years ago, "are you on Facebook?"). Yet I advocate for the single-serving friend and I think summer is the ideal time for them.
Picture this. You're at a classic Kiwi barbecue in December. Saussies grilling, beers flowing, Santa hats all around. Everyone's in a good mood because it's the end of the year, the holidays are coming, and if you turn up to work a bit late tomorrow your boss won't even care. New Zealand seems like a small place a lot of the time, but at social events like these, you always meet new people. Maybe you'll have a complex conversation about your evolving mental health, or perhaps you'll get into a D&M about how your siblings have affected your confidence. You'll pour each other drinks. Get a little sunburnt on the shoulders. Laugh about your insecurities.
And then you'll leave. You won't exchange details. You'll say "nice to meet you" and refrain from adding a casual "we should catch up again sometime". You'll get home and the next day you mightn't even remember their name. What you've had here is a singular experience that was facilitated by your environment. You had a "holiday connection" that was made special because you were both relaxed and in a festive mood.
Why keep this person as a single-serving friend and not try to turn it into something more? They served a unique purpose. They enabled you to divulge thoughts and opinions that don't normally come out with your regular friends. You were able to experience unfiltered honesty that didn't have any ramifications on your real life or the version of yourself you want to present to the world.
These sorts of singular connections are healthy. And pretty amazing. They allow us to give away a snippet of our lives without any worries. You got to learn about somebody else's life and get very personal details, but you don't have to carry the weight of them around with you after you leave.
I had a single-serving moment with somebody this past weekend. Another guy and I got to talking while in the ridiculously-long queue to enter a gig. We talked about the artists we were both excited to see, reminisced about what their old songs meant to us, and got into a heavy conversation about break-ups and how music can dictate them.
We were obviously both attending the gig with our own friends and halfway through the concert, we lost each other. I didn't see him again all night, only got a first name, and had no way of getting in touch.
Looking back, this was the best possible way this scenario could have played out. We had both been drinking so the chat was more flowing than usual. Our unique ability to bond over a few songs felt significant, but in reality I could probably have had the same connection with any other person there that night. We were in a time and a place, and it's
okay to leave it at that.
What we did for each other was make our Saturday night pleasant. That's the point of single-serving friends. Just to take you away from normal life. Offer up a one-time experience that makes an already good situation great, or at worst, makes a bad situation bearable.
Over the coming summer, the next time you're in the middle of a flight delay, in two-hour line to get into a music venue, or at a Christmas do when the sun is shining, try out this single-serving friend exercise. Connect with somebody, reveal intimate things about yourself, and don't try to stay in touch. Treat it like a one-off therapy session that can't follow you home; one that allows you to improve a moment, get something off your chest, then and appreciate that for what it was.