It occurred to me only recently - while trying to explain to a girl I no longer wanted to see, "It's not you; it's me" - that the near-entirety of my repertoire as dater, pick-up artist and generally-frustrated bachelor is really just an amalgam of cues I picked up from Seinfeld. The line mentioned above is, of course, a favorite break-up device of one George Costanza, who is perhaps the most conniving but ultimately hapless lothario to ever walk the streets of (fictional) Manhattan. And consequently, far from an ideal role model, if it is a successful, enriching and enduring relationship you seek.
But when you're 24 and still wet behind the ears on matters such as these, you're forced to gather your dating cues from somewhere other than personal experience. Probably to my detriment, I unwittingly gathered mine from Jerry, George, Elaine and, yes, even Kramer. The show played background noise to my early evenings from about ages six to twenty (if you're questioning my math, one word: reruns), so the selfish, impulsive and cynical behaviors of the show's core ensemble have always seemed - to me - rather normal. That's not good.
Now I am a young, single Manhattanite and, like each member of the comedic foursome that once acted as my barometer for acceptable social conduct, a serial dater. Imbued with my own (admittedly unsuccessful) experience from which to draw, I can tell you that Seinfeld is actually a terrible how-to-guide for urban daters. Perhaps the worst. And thus I feel obliged to debunk some of the more wildly inaccurate dating myths and miscues the show purported as perfectly commonplace.
Here are 10:
1. Everyone Dates One Person at a Time
According to Seinfeld: With few exceptions (I recall George being caught in a love triangle in "The Strong Box" after his initial fling refuses his attempt at a breakup), relationships imply some notion of exclusivity, whether they last for months on end or only a few days.
In Reality: Until you have "that conversation" and "rules" are established, you should operate under the assumption that the person you are with might be seeing other people as well. Before that day comes, you are both well within your right to exercise your bachelorhood as you see fit.
Plus: 20 Questions We Wish We Could Ask On a First Date (But Never Actually Would)
2. Breakups Are Rarely Protracted
According to Seinfeld: Epitomized by the famous "first mutual breakup" (in which Jerry and guest-star Janeane Garofalo contemporaneously tell one another it's over), relationships tend to end in one decisive and damning instant. Upon being dumped, exes ride off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again.
In Reality: Long-term relationships often demand drawn-out explanations and multiple reunions before a true breaking point is reached. Cutting loose a more recent acquaintance should prove simpler, but beware the occasional date who doesn't take hints well. He or she may require multiple dinner/movie/party rejections before the message is properly transmitted.
3. You Can Remain Best Friends with an Ex
According to Seinfeld: "This is my friend Elaine. We used to date. Now she stops by everyday for smalltalk or we meet at this diner down the street and pick at pieces of pie while our coffee gets cold. We routinely seek out one another's opinions for dating advice. One time we tried to do a no-strings-attached sex situation, but it got weird. No problem; we went right back to being besties the next day."
In Reality: We've all tried to do the friends thing with an ex, usually after a healthy interim period in which wounds heal and attractions fade, and in some cases, it's possible to salvage some semblance of a relationship. But best friends who spend time together on an almost daily basis? C'mon. Nobody's buying that.
4. Men Tend to Date Women Out of Their League
According to Seinfeld: While it's almost believable that Jerry - a comedian of pseudo-celebrity status - could get away with consistently dating women that look like models and actresses, surely the same can't be said of bald, stout and pathologically deceitful George, much less the gangly and unemployed "hipster doofus" Kramer. Yet all three seem to attract beautiful, successful women with relative ease.
In Reality: While I certainly don't mean to imply that women are shallow, fickle beings who only date men with rippled abs and Davidian jawlines, the notion of the three misfits just mentioned laying claim to a veritable buffet of knockouts from which to choose strikes me as slightly misleading.
Plus: 10 Things That Are Attractive About Guys and Girls With Glasses
5. Conversely, Women Exclusively Date Men Who Are Despicable
According to Seinfeld: Or at least Elaine Benes does. Her tendency to date undesirables is exemplified by her on-again, off-again relationship with the boorish misogynist David Puddy, but she attracts the attentions of men who are homeless, controlling, self-obsessed and otherwise afflicted as well.
In Reality: Do I have girlfriends who date a**holes? Of course! But none quite embrace the role with the unerring regularity that Elaine does.
6. Inviting Someone "Up for Coffee" is a Failsafe Way to Get Them in Your Bed at the End of a Date
According to Seinfeld: It wasn't until probably around age 12 (or about halfway into my career of 'Feld spectation), that I realized that no one on the show was actually going upstairs to drink coffee in the wee hours of the morning. They were merely using the coffee thing as a euphemism for requesting some extracurricular activity. And it invariably worked.
In Reality: Who drinks coffee before bed?! Surely there is a more tactful and less corny way to invite someone up, like the more direct and equally effective "Do you want to go make out in my apartment?" That sounds way better than coffee! Of course I do!
7. Dating Your Friends' Exes: No Big Deal
According to Seinfeld: Though Jerry dates an ex of George's early on in the series, it is the eccentric Cosmo Kramer who has a true predilection for sloppy seconds, as evidenced by his tendency to swoop in where the other two have failed (in one case, he goes so far as to enlist the help of his loathsome but exceedingly loquacious friend Newman in an attempt to steal an incumbent girlfriend from Jerry).
In Reality: The idea that this situation could thrive without one or more parties having their feelings hurt seems naive to this correspondent. Then again, the characters on Seinfeld rarely display proof that they possess normal, human feelings.
8. Seemingly Innocuous, Irksome Habits Are the Cause of Most Breakups
According to Seinfeld: Jerry, George and Elaine seem to start probing for a reason to break up with their SOs practically before they start dating them. The show's eponymous leading man has an especially frivolous roster of hang-ups and dealbreakers, from obnoxious laughs to "man-hands" to one woman's tendency to eat her peas one at a time.
In Reality: It's hard out there! Love is about compromise and acceptance; it's not an undying search for some idealized man or woman who fits in a box of your own creation. If you can't embrace a person's imperfections, well, I can't imagine you'll encounter eternally wedded bliss anytime soon. Jerry certainly never stumbled upon it (nor, it seems, did he have any desire to).
Plus: 12 Signs You're Probably Being Too Picky
9. "The Fix-Up Is One Step Away from Prostitution or Personal Ads"
According to Seinfeld: When Elaine and Jerry suggest that George go out on a blind date with the former's friend Cynthia, he expresses adamant opposition to the idea. One can only imagine the vitriol with which he would have regarded online dating.
In Reality: If you're single and ready to mingle, what could be more harmless than the offer of a date who already has a glowing stamp of approval from two friends whose opinions you (presumably) trust?
Plus: 9 Annoying Things You Should Never Say to a Single Person
10. You'll Make the Same Dating Mistakes Over and Over and Over Again
According to Seinfeld: The show's producers have been quoted as saying that the fatal flaw of its central characters (as well as the driving force behind its longevity), was a strict "no hugging, no learning" policy when it came to their encounters with others, most notably in their experiences with dating. In other words, their inability to learn from failed relationships impedes them from ever achieving anything more substantive, so they instead wallow in a state of self-induced, hardheaded dissatisfaction for perpetuity.
In Reality: Unlike the four characters who made up the core of our beloved Seinfeld for nine years, the average single person actually aspires to put an end to their loneliness someday. And the only way to do that is to be critical of past relationships, identify why and how they went wrong and apply what you've learned going forward.