“Operation Match” – 1960s University of Tennessee Computer Dating Service

In 1966, I was a senior at the University of Tennessee in the era of slide rules, large heavy simplistic desktop calculators and no PCs. Computers were relatively slow oversized machines, driven by stacks of labor consuming keypunched cards.

As I made my daily pilgrimage early each morning from Old Melrose Hall to “The Hill,” I began seeing posters advertising “Operation Match,” a university-sponsored computer dating service, developed by a group of Harvard University students. The much-ballyhooed happening was to be held on Saturday, February 19 in the old gym, featuring a band known as The True Tones. I hastily concluded that this evening would be one of definite delight or absolute annoyance for daring participants, dismissing any thought of my involvement.

My dorm buddy, Terry Thompson, desired to participate and wanted me to do the same. He surmised that it would be fun to let a computer select our ideal dates. He further reasoned that if we took this venture seriously, we just might be meeting our future brides. I was not so sure. After insistent prodding, Terry persuaded me to give it a try. The two of us walked to the Student Center and enrolled in the program.

We were given an eight-page questionnaire containing 105 rather personal questions, ranging from absolute requirements to semantic preferences. The instructions emphasized that questions be answered accurately and spontaneously. I received mild heartburn when I read this sentence in the questionnaire: “It should be stressed that a match between individuals cannot be guaranteed because of the possibility of an uneven number of boys and girls participating in the project, or a possibility of extremes not finding a match.”

When the big evening arrived, Terry and I agreed that the one with the best-matched date would pay the other a dollar as a consolation gesture. The long awaited shindig began at 7:30 pm with the first order of business being to match individuals. This activity was carried out with surprising speed and efficiency. I held my breath as I was introduced to Janet, a petite nice looking brunette from West Tennessee; Terry’s mate was a very attractive blond.

The social event was then kicked off, lasting from 8:00 until midnight. Regrettably, Janet and I promptly realized that we had little in common. Surprisingly, there was a “grievance table” where students could literally swap incompatible dates. I was too dignified for that action; Janet showed no indication of dumping me either. We were now committed to four hours of absolute annoyance.

We mutually agreed to leave the crowded noisy gym and drive to Shoney’s “Big Boy” drive-in restaurant on Kingston Pike. We sat in my “sooped up” 1960 solid red Chevrolet Corvair, listened to the radio and talked for quite a while. Admittedly, we became somewhat more attuned to one another.

After returning Janet to her campus dorm, I went back to Old Melrose Hall. Upon approaching my room, I spotted Terry sitting alone in a chair just outside my door with his head down and holding up a dollar bill in one hand. Without uttering a word, I snatched my solace offering from his loose grip and abruptly went into my room. My first and last computer-dating venture was history.

Four years later, I married my perfect mate, a pretty redhead, accomplishing it without the aid of an imprudent computer. It has been a journey of absolute delight.