Before OKCupid, There Was This


In 1965, two rival dating programs were founded at Harvard. People found love, but — in a precursor of Facebook — things quickly degenerated into rivalry and backbiting.

What did people do before Internet dating? Dating services. Which, in the days of single-sex schools, must have seemed like a potential goldmine. So much so that two groups of Harvard students had the brainstorm at the same time. Writing in GQ, Dan Slater lays the scene.

Though computer-dating was still a new concept in 1965-back then, the answers to personality questionnaires were converted into punch cards which were then fed into computers the size of small cars-two rival outfits had already popped up at Harvard: Operation Match and Contact Incorporated. Very little distinguished the two companies. Operation Match sold its questionnaires for $3. Contact charged $4. The Operation Match questionnaire was somewhat playful. Contact posed more serious questions. (One Operation Match survey question, “My race is…,” had only three options: Caucasian, Oriental, or Negro.) Still, both aimed to expand the campus dating pool from Wheaton to Wellesley, from Pembroke to Mount Holyoke.

Quickly, the two orgs lost sight of the bigger issue of helping people find love (or at least sex) and started warring. There was slander, undermining, trash-talk, and the occasional brawl. And ultimately, post-college, the founders all moved on — it was a lot harder, pre-Internet, to run a questionnaire-based service outside the confines of a campus. So, did it work? Well, kind of. But not without heartache. Recalls the founder of Operation Match,

Back then I was going out with a girl from Wellesley. I gave her a free questionnaire because she helped me distribute in the dorms there. When we ran the survey through the computer, she and I matched. That was exciting! But I forgot that she also received five other matches, including a guy from Amherst, whom she later dumped me for.

Plus ca change, as they say. At least today it’s not assumed that a woman won’t date a man from a younger class.

The Social Network: The Prequel

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