What would Elaine say?

America's most famous commitment-phobic has startled a nation by agreeing to marry. But why did Jerry Seinfeld have to choose another man's wife?
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Marrying Man! Master of his domain no more! Jerry takes the plunge! Mazel Tov! The New York tabloids haven't been this excited since Monica Lewinsky confessed she owned a dress with an incriminating stain. And that story turned out to be just another scandal in the White House. Big deal.

But Jerry Seinfeld getting married after evading matrimony for 45 years in favour of dating Lolitas and Hollywood starlets, now that is a big deal. Big enough to wipe the First Lady Hillary Clinton, earthquakes, office shootings and Donald Trump off every front page in town.

Seriously, who in New York cares about Hillary's Senate run when the poster boy for commitment phobia buys a diamond ring at Tiffany?

For three days now the Bridget Joneses of Brooklyn have been dancing in the streets. If Jerry can propose, they reckon, their own gun-shy boyfriends can't be far behind, can they?

For nine seasons, Jerry Seinfeld played himself on his eponymous television sitcom, the perennial Jewish bachelor who meets, sleeps with and dumps a series of beautiful women. Unlike his best friend, George Costanza, who got engaged on the show (but was relieved of the ordeal when his intended died from licking poisonous cheap envelopes), Jerry's television persona stayed well clear of the altar.

Today you can hear the lament all over America that the show is no longer in production. For the story leading up to Seinfeld's engagement to Jessica Sklar, 28, a public relations executive at the fashion house, Tommy Hilfiger, could have provided enough material for a season's worth of scripts. And that's without a Kramer subplot.

When Seinfeld met Sklar in July 1998 at the Reebok gym on Manhattan's Upper West Side, she had just returned from her honeymoon in Italy. Just four weeks before that, she had married Broadway producer Eric Nederlander, her boyfriend of five years and son of the hugely wealthy Nederlander family (who part-own the New York Yankees baseball team), in a lavish wedding. Within weeks of their meeting, the New York tabloids were on to the story. Seinfeld and Sklar were spotted working out together, dining together, and yet all parties issued statements that there was nothing amiss.

"Our relationship couldn't be more solid," said new husband Eric Nederlander when asked about his wife's repeated sightings with Seinfeld. But perhaps Nederlander should have done his homework: Seinfeld has always had a thing for unavailable or difficult women. For five years he dated Lolita-esque dress designer Shoshanna Lonstein, whom he met when she was just 15.

Seinfeld was pilloried at the time for cradle-snatching and eventually split from Lonstein, moving on to TV writer Jennifer Crittenden who was, like Sklar, married when they began dating. Crittenden's husband, Jerry Richdale, marched straight to the tabloids, proclaiming: "It's almost like he gets a kick out of ending people's marriages."

And that was before Seinfeld met Sklar at the gym. Within four months of meeting Seinfeld, Sklar had left her husband, freeing herself to date the comedian in public. By this time her ex-husband had no illusions. "The family is appalled by the behaviour of Jessica and Jerry Seinfeld," Dan Klores, a spokesman for Nederlander told the Daily News. "Eric is stunned at her betrayal."

Eric may have been stunned, but the New York tabloids lapped it up. Real-life Jerry was turning into better material than his TV counterpart ever was. Jerry was branded a "home wrecker" and Jessica a "gold digger." According to Forbes magazine, in 1998 Seinfeld was the richest entertainer in America, earning $247m in syndication fees for that year alone.

As soon as she had separated from her husband, Sklar was spotted out and about with Seinfeld all over Manhattan. They worked out together at their gym and holidayed in Italy - they seemed to have no qualms about revisiting the country where she had so recently spent her honeymoon. There were reports that the romance had ended in the summer, but it now appears that this was merely a ploy to throw the media off their trail.

Last Saturday, Seinfeld proposed to her at Balthazar, the trendy Manhattan restaurant frequented by fashion people and social X-rays. When Sklar said yes, the media immediately set up camp outside Seinfeld's Central Park West apartment. The former Wimbledon champion, tennis brat and now sports commentator, John McEnroe, lives in the same building, and true to form, asked the press to leave with a characteristic snarl. (The press are still camped outside the building.)

So far the couple have proffered only tiny morsels about their impending nuptials. They won't reveal a time or a place, despite rumours that they might run off to Las Vegas any moment to give the press the slip. But when doorstopped at the downtown restaurant, City Hall, on Tuesday night, Seinfeld revealed he was ready to kiss his skirt-chasing bachelor days goodbye. "I feel great. I'm really happy about it," he said.

Asked how he knew Jessica was the one for him, he answered, "That's a really good question. In the end, I think it's pure instinct."

But when your instinct has been to love the hunt but hate the kill, can you really settle down? Is New York's most famous neurotic bachelor ready to ditch serial dating for domesticity and nappies? Barely a lawyer or shrink in Manhattan seems to think so. Divorce lawyers are already penning open letters to Seinfeld in the press, begging him to get a pre-nuptial agreement.

"Make a schedule for each year of marriage so that she gets a certain amount of money. For example, if they are married for one year, he would give her $100,000; two years, $200,000," advised lawyer Raoul Felder. Psychologists have weighed in with the professional view that Seinfeld may well still bolt before the ceremony. Commitment-phobes don't change their spots, they cry.

But the last word belongs to Eric Nederlander, the jilted husband of Jessica Sklar, who, when told of her engagement to the TV comic, said Seinfeld should know he is getting no prize. "Good luck to her," he sniffed. "I've moved on. Things are great with me. She's his problem now."

Indeed she is, and now the bookies are taking bets on who will leave the relationship first. Will Jerry run for the hills on the day of the wedding? Or will Jessica ditch him for another comic she meets in the gym?

New Yorkers haven't bet this much money since the Yankees won the World Series.

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