Seinfeld almost invented ‘friends with benefits’ in 1991!

Last night I watched a really hilarious episode of Seinfeld titled “The Deal”. The episode is really old. According to Wikipedia it was first aired way back in May 1991. The whole half hour of that episode centered around Seinfeld and Elaine experimenting with what we now call being “friends with benefits” (FWB). The really amazing thing about the episode is that the concept did not yet exist at the time. Of course the situation is not likely to be new and lots of people must’ve gotten into that sort of relationship long before that episode aired. But if you describe the situation today any 21st Century person would simply say matter of factly, ‘Oh, you mean you’re friends with benefits…” Back in 1991, you would’ve needed a 20-minute conversation to articulate what today is captured in three words.


The Seinfeld crew came sooo close to coining the term. Halfway through the show I was like “Omg…. don’t tell me Seinfeld invented the term ‘friends with benefits’!” The words never materialized though. There was a scene in which Seinfeld was sitting with George Costanza in their favorite diner when, as Seinfeld was wrapping up his description to George of what he and Elaine had been up to, George bolted from his seat in a Eureka! moment and I was sooo sure the words “Of course! You’re friends with benefits!” would slip right out his mouth. They didn’t.

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Wouldn’t it have been great if the distinction of inventing the phrase ‘friends with benefits’ was something Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld could hang up along with their other contributions to the vernacular; up there with “re-gifting”, “not that there’s anything wrong with that”, “yadda yadda”, etc. (well, ok, maybe Seinfeld didn’t invent the last two, but popularized them massively)?

But that’s what made this episode even more hilarious — the experience of taking it in with my 2013 mind. Jerry and Elaine within the first half of the episode laid down what was then the groundbreaking framework of a good FWB relationship. Basically FWB, according to Seinfeld, has two components if I recall right, “this” (the baseline friendship) and “that” (the sex). And to be able to successfully pull off such a relationship which George describes as having one’s cake and eating it too, there are two ground rules to observe:

– No phone calls the day after
– Staying over is optional

Later in the show the component “the other” that tips the whole thing over into a real relationship is conceptualized when Elaine finally realizes she wanted the whole package — this, that, and the other stuff. A real relationship then which is composed of this, that, and the other therefore presumably nullifies the above two rules.

There’s the genius in Seinfeld I guess. Compare this episode’s brilliant succinctness to the 2011 film Friends with Benefits starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis which obviously took movie-level timescales to explore the very same concept. But the premise isn’t too different as Wikipedia reveals

After a fun night together exploring the city, Dylan agrees to take the job. The next day, Jamie presents Dylan with the contract to sign so she can land her commission for recruiting him. Not knowing anyone else in the city, he and Jamie quickly develop a strong platonic friendship. One night, while hanging out at Jamie’s apartment watching a romantic comedy, they get on the topic of sex and relationships. They come to the conclusion that sex should not come with so many emotional attachments. As they both feel the need for a physical connection, they agree to have sex without emotion or commitment.

Eyesroll… you pretty much know how the movie will end without having to read the rest of the Wikipedia article or, god forbid, watching the movie itself.

The message, it seems, is pretty clear. That sort of thing just simply does not work. Maybe the whole notion was just a creation of a generation who were made to believe they could have everything.

But then that’s just me. 😉

[Photo courtesy]

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