Single-Serving Friends

“Friends are born, not made.” - Henry Adams

4 min. read

Edward Norton’s character in _Fight Club _introduced me to the term “single-serving friend,” a person who is your friend for a short period in time. In the movie, he’s talking about the people he meets on flights (“everything on a plane is single-serving”).

As someone who travels a lot, I’ve had the opportunities to make a lot of single-serving friends in the past few years. Sometimes it’s a few hours on a plane, and sometimes it’s a couple of days if I’m in a town for a conference or series of shows. For a long time I thought, like Norton’s character in Fight Club, that a single-serving friend was someone you only interacted with during that one short time period, greatly enjoyed one another’s company, then never saw each other again.

But that’s silly.

I’ve met some of the most fascinating, encouraging, inspirational, clever, and all-around sparkly people I may ever know when I’ve been traveling. To limit our connection to that hour, day, or week is more than a bummer — it’s life sabotage. “I really wish you lived here” is a common sentiment. Long distance relationships are hard, if not impossible. People have overfull lives. They don’t have room for a Sam from thousands of miles away. Or at least that’s how I thought of it for a long while.

I’ve changed the way that I think about single-serving friends.

Instead of viewing the friendship as single-serving, something that only exists for that one moment in time, I now think about that experience with that person as single-serving, with the hope and intent that we might have opportunities for future experiences together, even if they are similarly single-serving. We don’t need to maintain contact, be pen pals, or talk every day, but I like the idea of keeping the door (or inbox) open. This change has led to some really wonderful relationships, with folks near and far, that I deeply value. It’s also changed the way that I interact with folks on the road.

Knowing that I can have a meaningful single-serving friendship with someone means that I am more willing to have real conversations with people I meet on the road. Conversations about things that matter to them and to me, or to us — look at that: we just became an _us. Instead of talking about the weather, or some stupid sports thing I don’t actually care about, we talk about life, in all of its wonderful fragments and facets. And talking about life, and hearing other people’s perspectives on life, helps me be better at life.


The possibility of a single-serving friendship also creates the possibility of real, meaningful connection to people I would have otherwise never allowed myself to connect to. And the more I connect, the more I want to connect. Connecting feels good. Wanting to connect more is a good habit to form. Connected life is a loving life.

If you’re digging the idea of single-serving friends, but aren’t sure where to start, or how to do it, here are a few humble tips:

  • Be clear up front. If you want to stay connected with someone, tell them. Ask if that’s okay. Explain what you mean.
  • Don’t force it. One of my best friends in the world is someone I only chat with or see a few times a year, but when we do, we’re immediately best friends again. That’s how our relationship works. It works that way because we’ve allowed it to be that way and haven’t tried to force it to be something it’s not. Feel it out.
  • Hugs are good. If you’re a hugger.
  • Phone numbers are better than emails are better than Facebooks are better than Twitters. Social media is a great way to disconnect from people. Let them tell you directly what they want to tell you about their life. Do the same.
  • Be no-holds-barred honest. We all lie more than we likely realize. Single-serving friendships can be amazing in that you have never told the person a lie (where most of the long-term or more high-contact friends you likely lie to inadvertently dozens of times a week). You don’t have to “protect” them with white lies, and you don’t need to puffer yourself into something you’re not. You can be blissfully, heart-relievingly honest. And it’s fantastic.
  • High fives are good. In case you’re not a hugger.