On-screen, the friendships of Jerry Seinfeld and his kooky single friends, Elaine Benes, George Costanza, and Cosmo Kramer seemed solid. The foursome made so many stops at the coffee shop and faced so much together during the nine seasons of Seinfeld that it’s hard to believe that the cast wasn’t friends in real life. Like many work-only friendships though, perhaps they were simply friendships of convenience and not the deep, authentic friends that I believe many people (especially men) need today.
First, a confession. I have never seen a full episode of Seinfeld. As I read more about the show though, there are aspects that fit well for my series called, New Year; New Types of Friends. It appears the actors on Sienfeld were friends on set but that’s pretty much where the pleasantries ended. Similarly, most work colleagues are friendly in the office and occasionally go out to dinner or drinks as a group. But that’s pretty much where the relationship ends. These relationships are utilitarian or what I first wrote in The Philosophy of Friendship about “friendships of convenience.”
About the TV Show
Widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld aired on NBC from 1989 to 1998. Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm genius, Larry David, the show ran from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998. It’s 180 episodes often focusing on the minutiae of daily life, often described as “a show about nothing”,
The TV show follows the mainly mundane but always amusing lives of Jerry Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself and three of his friends: best friend George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander), former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and his neighbor from across the hall, Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). Set mostly in an apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in New York City, the show racked up dozens of awards during its nine-season run. The show’s success was thanks in no small part to the cast.
Since the show ended, Seinfeld, Louis-Dreyfus, and Alexander have continued acting, writing, and producing. One report suggests Richards destroyed his career in an infamous racist tirade that appeared on the internet. Jerry denounced his friends’ words but also supported him. Since then, Richards has made multiple appearances on Jerry’s show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Friends or Not Friends?
According to Screenrant, of all the sitcoms that focus on friend groups, the characters on Seinfeld definitely wouldn’t be described as sweet, innocent, or wholesome. Sometimes the main characters talked about serious topics, and sometimes they helped each other out, shared an adorable moment, or just had a fun time without any drama. They seem to care about each other and enjoy hanging out regularly.
But Jerry and his friends also frustrate each other. They see each other’s flaws and are ultimately pretty selfish people. The screenwriters do a great job of portraying these friends in annoying situations where they don’t always do the right thing but ultimately reconcile. However, sources say, the friendships were not as they appeared on-screen.
On the show, Jerry’s best pal, George Costanza is known to lie, cheat, and steal (not really stealing but he once smuggled a book into a restroom). So what was it that kept him on Jerry’s speed dial? The comic’s understanding that his own complicated, annoyance-ridden existence was that much better when compared with his short, bald buddy’s.
Speaking with The Project in March 2020, Jason Alexander cast doubt on the perception that the stars of Seinfeld were close friends during their time off. “We were never social friends, we were work friends. We had very different lives.” On the bright side, Alexander made it clear that they all got along well on set. “But we really hung out with each other at the show. We were workmates.”After nine years, when the show ended, we kind of went, ‘Oh, bye, see ya!’” said, Alexander.
More About Work Friendships
The above article that classifies the cast of Seinfeld as friendships of convenience made me pause and reflect on how many of my work relationships were still intact. Like many of you, there are not as many as I hoped.
Usually as one nears their last days with a company, many co-workers will say “Let’s keep in touch” or Let’s grab lunch someday soon.” But many don’t follow through on that suggestion. Perhaps, it is on you as the retiree to follow through but it seems like most of those comments are just platitudes.
Although you may develop some good friendships at work, my experience is that very few are more than just friendships of convenience. Sometimes work colleagues get together socially. These are also called “friendships of proximity” since you spend a lot of time on the tasks of your job.
Friendships After You Retire
That said, I do have two fellow employees during the 40+ years of my career that were more than just work colleagues. I would not classify either as my closest friends. But there was definitely chemistry that developed with both men that mas made those friendships last.
One friendship, in particular, developed early on in my professional career. We were both in our early 20s and desired to get on the fast track in the company. Our birthdays are just days apart (though he was a couple of years older than me). We both decided to go back to college to complete our degrees by taking advantage of the company’s tuition reimbursement program. He and I both joined the company golf league to improve our executive development and also enjoy some vendor perks. We did things together as couples (my wife and I went on a double date to a football game with a former girlfriend who is now his wife of 40+ years). Years later, he left the company but stayed in the industry and became a competitor of mine in the same industry. Despite this, we made it a point to keep professional boundaries when we got together as couples. He retired a few years ahead of me and we still celebrate our birthdays with a round of golf and dinner afterward to reminisce about how blessed we were to have good careers and a good friendship.
The other was literally a result of sitting by this man in the next office cubicle for more than 17 years. He was a bit of a mentor to me early in my career and was the ultimate professional who showed me how to navigate the company and handle those difficult customer situations. We also shared some conversations about our faith; he is a current Catholic and I am a Protestant (or what some called a “reformed catholic”).
He retired 4 years ahead of me and we still get together for a 20-mile bike ride on occasion or do a woodworking project (it’s good to have friends with cool tools but also knowledge!).
In both cases, we have talked of faith matters. They were work friends who became good friends. Both men have my book but neither is among my innermost circle of GodBuddies. And we are all OK with it!
As I think more about friendships at work, it’s important to again clarify that men should never develop close friendships with a female at work. As I wrote in Guidelines for Male-Female Friendships, our greatest challenge is maintaining sexual purity with all the women in our lives, especially when there are temptations from our female co-workers.
That said, like Seinfeld, you may be disappointed that those friendships of convenience do not last. As you move through various career changes and life stages, it’s important to find friendships in places other than work. Maybe it’s with a neighbor, brother-in-law, or men at your church. Some will go deeper than others but the chemistry can develop as you allow the Holy Spirit to guide all your friendships.
My next post with examples of friendships on television is from the show Friends.