WHAT’S WRONG WITH JERRY SEINFELD?*
Jerry Seinfeld has a problem. He is a respectably good-looking man living in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. He has an interesting job, a compelling circle of close friends, and he is funny. Let us not underestimate the seductive power of a well-placed and witty observation about the varied incongruities of modern social life. And yet despite a steady stream of attractive and eligible bachelorettes parading through his apartment under the watchful gaze of cornflakes and Cocopuffs, he remains, after a full nine seasons of relentless questing after love, unremittingly single.
What is Jerry’s problem? Why is it that a man who fills his days with the search for romantic companionship, a man who is, under any circumstances a perfectly eligible bachelor, even, shall we say, quite the catch, why is he unable to find true love? Or failing that, a committed relationship. Even George Costanza, the perennial dunce and incurable, for lack of a better word, screw-up, was able to keep up an (intermittently) steady relationship with a woman for the better part of three seasons. Even to the point of engagement and, if it hadn’t been for her untimely postage related death, marriage.
But Jerry has no Susan. Despite his romantic entanglements with unquestionably more women than George (I would hazard to guess that Jerry dates two to Georges one) he cannot seem to find anything more than these mere entanglements. His brief encounters with women, sexual and romantic, never seem to become more than that. Why? What makes Jerry so different, even from George, of whom he said ‘I think I’m pretty much like you, only successful.’ Why does Jerry, so successful, have so little success in exactly that area of life to which he devotes more time, energy and dialogue than any other?
Jerry is a paradox: the serial dater who cant seem to keep a partner around beyond the third date, an eminently datable man who finds plenty of sex and no love. Why can’t Jerry make it work? Why is this question so important? Why should we care about the romantic hang-ups of a fictional character from the mid-nineties? Well, let me tell you.
Jerry’s problem is our problem as well. His is the problem is the problem of every serial dater, man or woman, teen or centenarian, who can find plenty of tail but no love in the modern world. Jerry’s problem is the problem of everyone, lonely and depressed, who comes home from another failed first date and asks themselves ‘Why can’t I find someone? What is wrong with me?’ Well, let me tell you.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH JERRY SEINFELD?
Wrong. Convincing as it sounds, Jerry is unable to find a committed relationship not because he can’t commit but because he can’t relate. Jerry’s problem is that he is so desperate to find anyone at all that he isn’t satisfied with anyone in particular. The women in his life are not individual people they are candidates auditioning for the role of girlfriend. He reduces each of them to pithy ciphers (Mulva, the Virgin, the Two-Face, and the ever-popular ‘Oh, You…’) and compresses them from living, three-dimensional people into two-dimensional labels.
But this is just a symptom of the more basic problem, and the more basic problem is attitude. Jerry automatically and unconsciously collapses his romantic prospects into nothing more than game-pieces in his romantic puzzle. The who of these women, the other person centred in another life, is entirely eclipsed by Jerry’s need for them to fill a role, and the only requirement for the role is female genitalia. Jerry cannot find love because he is not looking for a girl in all her unique particularity, he is looking for Girl, any girl, as an appendix to his own life. Jerry’s Problem, ultimately, is that he is not looking for a human being, he’s looking for a girlfriend.
BUT IS THAT REALLY MY PROBLEM TOO?
WELL, HOW SO?!
One of the greatest problems with love in the modern world is that the heart-sick seekers after companionship are not looking for people, they are looking for roles. The lonely man wants a Girlfriend, he doesn’t want Anne, who works at the office supply store and smiles into her cash register when he refreshes his stock of printer cartridges and pencil lead. The twenty-something who always dreamed of raising a family to the tune of Subarus and Labradors isn’t interested in Tiffany, who sat in front of him in History of Political Theory and dropped her pencils with alarming regularity, he wants Woman, Wife and Mother.
If this all sounds a bit chauvinistic, even a bit ‘every man wants to marry June Cleaver because she presses his shirts, cooks his meals and is his mother,’ well there’s a touch of that but it misses the point. Jerry’s Problem is not just Jerry’s, it is also Elaine’s, and neither of them are looking for a Cleaver. Or not exactly. Jerry may not be looking for a sous-chef cum launderer, we may as well give him that much credit, he may be looking for the woman he will dote on, the woman who will laugh at his jokes, even the woman that he will give everything to, but at no point is he looking for Susan, who was a lesbian for a short time, collects dolls and for better or worse loves you.
The point, which again we return to, is that Jerry and you, yes you, you who cycle through romantic partners, who likes but does not love, who goes on plenty of first dates and precious few second dates or gets caught up in a dolorous succession of luke-warm relationships, you, your problem, and of course Jerry’s Problem, is that you are looking for person ‘of your type,’ and people don’t come in types, they come in singles and in lucky moments doubles. The search for ‘a girlfriend,’ a woman who will enter your life and become caught in your orbit like a fledgling moon, cold, dead and smiling, is not only unrealistic, it is doomed to failure. Love is a merging of two lives, not the addition to one of a secret ingredient that makes everything taste better and nothing essentially different. Jerry cannot find love because it is impossible to love a type; people must be loved as themselves and only that. In the end it is not surprising that there can be no love and no relationship between Jerry and ‘The Two-Face’ or between Jerry and ‘Mulva,’ but there could perhaps have been love between Jerry and Anne.
* The author would like to make it expressly clear that he is writing about Jerry, the character in the television show ‘Seinfeld.’ He knows nothing about the actual Mr. Seinfeld and therefore could not be writing about him.