This post was originally published on my PhDadBlog.
At one point in Fight Club (1999), Edward Norton’s character says the following in a voice-over:
Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends.
I’ve recently realized how being a parent puts me in contact with a lot of single-serving parent friends. And I hate it. Not because I don’t like meeting new people, but because I’m terrible at moving things beyond that single-serving, which I’d really like to do.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Those parents you just run into and share a brief connection with? You take your toddler to the park and push him on one of the baby swings. Then another parent puts their kid on the swing next to you and you invariably exchange a few words. The same few words. Every. Single. Time. Maybe you start by saying “Hi” to their kid who keeps staring at you with a finger up their nose, or maybe the other parent beats you to it because your kid is staring at them even harder. Then you ask each other about each of the kids’ ages, maybe ask if either of you have any other kids, make some general comment about the weather, developmental milestones, the kids’ names, their meaning, how crazy it is to be a parent, etc. All pretty superficial stuff. And then your kid is done and runs off and you have to chase after him, bringing an end to the conversation.
Even if you do connect a little more deeply as parents and keep the conversation going past the simultaneous swinging, at some point one of those kids is going to run off in the opposite direction and that will be that. Unless you do something about it. And that’s the challenge for me. On two separate occasions I even exchanged numbers with two different dads, but didn’t do anything beyond that. And they didn’t either. And if it wasn’t hard enough for me to reconnect with another dad to elevate that conversation and relationship, I’m not sure I’d ever even feel comfortable asking a mom for her number to begin with, lest I give off any unintended creepo vibes.
Recently, I’ve also found myself acting on a weird impulse with these single-serving friends when I’m out with just my 22MO. Namely, a strange need to make sure the person knows I have an older child too. I’m still trying to figure out this recent development to better understand where it’s coming from, because I don’t like it. It feels so full of ego. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to assure them I know what I’m doing? As if any parent knows what they’re doing? Maybe it comes from a bit of self-consciousness of thinking people think I’m too young to be a parent? Maybe it’s both things and/or more? More self-reflection is definitely in order.
Since dadding it up full time, I’ve made a lot of single-serving friends, especially when it’s just me and the 22MO. People love babies, and these conversations can happen anywhere. In line at the grocery store, at some mommy-and-me class, at a restaurant, wherever. In many ways being a parent is an incredible shared experience. There’s an instant sense of solidarity with other parents because – trust me non-parents – you think you know, but you have no idea. But I really want to turn some of these into double- and triple-serving friends. And maybe even lifelong ones.
How about it, parents? What do you do when you come across single-serving friends? Do you have a tried and true script you draw from? Do you have any experiences with or strategies for elevating one of those single-serving friendships – or even just that single conversation – to the next level? Help a father out!
Sigh…to making new friends!