Believe it or not, not all relationships survive Valentine’s Day. Sometimes, the pressure of the supposed most romantic day of the year is too great. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit. If your relationship ends in tragedy this year, why not contextualize your breakup with some of the worst breakups in television history—the Seinfeld breakups.
All good things must come to an end, sometimes in a catastrophically hilarious way. Such is the case on many episodes of Seinfeld. The “show about nothing” ran from 1989–99 and produced 180 episodes. By some estimates, Jerry dated 66 women, Elaine dated 56 men and George dated 47 women. Kramer got in his fair share, too. All four deeply-flawed protagonists ended relationships for silly, petty reasons, perhaps none as petty as when Jerry breaks up with a woman for eating peas the wrong way: one at a time. But the truly provoking, deeply wacky breakups on Seinfeld are not just petty. They are disasters that twist multiple plotlines together and break them over the head of some poor suitor. Your relationship will look fine by comparison.
Number 5: Jane in “The Hamptons”
In perhaps George’s most iconic breakup, the gang heads to the Hamptons to get some sun. While George is out shopping for groceries, his girlfriend, Jane, sunbathes topless and is spotted by Jerry. George, being the man he is, demands to see Jerry’s girlfriend topless for the sake of fairness. Instead, Jerry’s girlfriend happens to catch George changing after coming out of the very cold pool, prompting George to utter the line that men across the country still rely on to this day: “There was shrinkage!” She immediately tells George’s girlfriend, prompting her to leave wordlessly in the middle of the night. This episode contains about five different plotlines, with some characters involved in several different plotlines at the same time, so it’s easy to lose the thread. What makes this breakup so satisfying is the way George’s actions immediately backfire on him. This is a frequent occurrence on Seinfeld, but it plays particularly well in an episode where other characters are engaged in more sophisticated buffoonery.
Number 4: Dolores in “The Junior Mint”
Most of Jerry’s breakups are partly his choosing as the neat-freak, germaphobe character often breaks off relationships for silly, trivial reasons. In most episodes, George is the one backing himself into a particularly stupid corner. But in “The Junior Mint,” Jerry finds himself in a dumb puzzle of his own design; he has forgotten the name of the woman he is seeing. His only hint? Her name rhymes with “a part of the female anatomy.” The bulk of the episode is spent saying names like Aretha, Bovary and Gipple. At the end, the girlfriend presses Jerry to say her name. Jerry guesses Mulva, and she storms out right as he remembers that it is actually Dolores. This sequence plays well in the context of Jerry’s serial dating habit, and also is kind of a fun wink at the audience—because remembering the name of Jerry’s girlfriend of the week is always impossible.
Number 3: Billy in “The Sponge”
Perhaps Elaine’s most iconic episode, “The Sponge” centers around Elaine’s preferred method of birth control going off-market. After scrambling for a bit, she’s able to buy a case from a grocer. Realizing that her supply is limited, she begins to consider whether her current boyfriend Billy is “Sponge-worthy.” The phrase has become a euphemism for sexual worthiness and entered the popular consciousness alongside many other Seinfeld-isms. Eventually Billy is deemed Sponge-worthy, but only after trimming his sideburns. Technically there’s no on-screen breakup; but Billy isn’t seen after this episode—apparently his worthiness didn’t last for long.
Number 2: Sidra in “The Implant”
A common theme in Jerry’s romantic life is his general oafishness and ignorance in the face of his girlfriends. This is exemplified in “The Implant,” where Elaine convinces Jerry that his girlfriend, Sidra, has breast implants. Rather than communicate openly and ask her if that’s the case, he cancels his next date with Sidra and asks Elaine to spy on her at the gym’s sauna. Elaine “trips” in the sauna, landing directly on her breasts and becomes convinced that they’re real. Sidra later sees Elaine and Jerry together and correctly judges that Elaine was doing spywork for Jerry. She breaks it off, announcing, “They’re real, and they’re spectacular.” This episode is a classic example of all the protagonists beings squarely in the wrong and learning nothing from it.
Number 1: Meryl in “The Wife”
A pre-Friends Courtney Cox plays the girlfriend in this episode to great effect. When Jerry accidentally does a big favor for the owner of his laundromat, he is gifted discounted dry-cleaning for life. Jerry quickly capitalizes on this by pretending that his new girlfriend Meryl is his wife, earning her the discount as well. Antics ensue when the couple must feign greater and greater degrees of intimacy and Jerry becomes attached to saying the phrase “my wife” (this was before Borat.) Eventually, another woman catches Jerry’s eye and he tries to give her the discount as well. His girlfriend discovers this when another woman’s garments start showing up in her dry-cleaning pickups. This is a classic case of no woman, not even Courtney Cox, being good enough for Jerry for longer than a week. Ultimately, this breakup is made wacky by the way a silly and short relationship is blown up into a high-stakes, extramarital scandal over a laundromat discount. It just works, people!