Computers are lousy lovers
How I joined the Compudate Scientific Rendez-Vous service and found, if not love — Amy, Angie and Maggie
Amy’s the only woman I know who’s been 29 for the past eight years. But there are doubtless many more. We met last fall after joining a Montreal computer-dating club and completing a Scientifically Designed Personality Evaluation Test. The rest was done for us. Amy’s absolute factors sought out my psychological valences; my psychological inventory, in turn, nestled with Amy’s main interests — music and the. occult.
Click. Click. Click.
Deep in the heart of a computer, something happened. Two days later, Amy received in the mail a list of men with whom the computer thought she'd be compatible. I received a list of women.
We were on each other’s list.
The club we joined was Compudate Scientific Rendez-Vous which, though based in Montreal, claims to service all of Canada. Amy enrolled for six months; I enrolled for three, which on three separate lists netted me a total of 15 variously appointed women from a typist with troddendown shoes and a permanent cold at one end, to the most voluptuous dietician I’d ever seen at the other.
Amy was somewhere in the middle. Having sat through more painfully incompatible candlelit dinners than she cares to remember, she turned to the computer as a final resort — for a second husband. The nearest she got to it was a Southern Area Chess Champion, too shy to talk. It made things difficult. Amy’s not talking much herself, these days. She’s tired, bored and, above all, excrutiatingly lonely.
“I wanna lover,” she says. We’re sitting in Papa Dan’s in downtown Montreal. Amy’s ordered the last beers. “I wanna damn lover. And there’s no point counting on you. You only joined computer dating so you could write a book. When’s it coming out? You’d better see that I get an autographed copy or I’ll phone your editor at Clarke, Irwin and tell her you’ve been seen parading in Place Ville Marie in drag! That’ll shake ’em up.”
Amy’s right. I joined Compudate Scientific Rendez-Vous to write a book — Data For A Candlelit Dinner. She doesn’t know it, but the title’s hers. All she talks about is data that’s fed into the computer, candlelit dinners — and her future. “I wanna guy like my husband was,” she says. “He was a bastard, I know. And he left me with two kids. But I loved him.”
She doesn’t have everything I sought in a woman when I completed the evaluation for the test, but she has a sense of humor, which is more than you can say for half the others. “Anyway,” I tell her, “what do you keep on talking about a lover for? If Compudate finds you a friend it’s done something, hasn’t it?”
“I’m tired of being someone’s friend,” Amy says with grey-red eyes. She’s swilling her beer around like medicine, trying to see how far it can rise up the inside of the glass without spilling over. “All men keep telling me is that I’m a goddamn good sport.”
“That’s about the size of it, Amy. You’re a damn good sport. C’mon, let’s go. Your baby-sitter wants to go to bed.”
“I wanna husband and a lover . . .”
Compudate Scientific Rendezvous’ lone proprietor is George Martin who has an office both in his apartment in Notre Dame de Grâce and downtown, where he rents a computer. He says Amy’s asking for too much, too soon. “The first thing I tell people,” he says, “is to be realistic. You can’t join Compudate and expect to see Prince Charming coming up the driveway after two weeks, or even six months come to that. You have to give it time. You have to see as many people as you possibly can, and sort the wheat from the chaff.”
A round, happy-go-lucky individual of 38, George is the last man
you'd expect to find in such a job. He has read Goethe and Heine and. for most of his life, has been studying the piano. Ten years ago, he thought about a career as a concert pianist and can still manage all of the Beethoven sonatas. Since then, he’s studied computer analysis at Montreal’s Sir George Williams University, and settled a heart he confesses was once lonely with a woman he met — through a friend.
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from page 37
George Martin openly admits that, in the first instance, he launched Compudate Scientific Rendez-Vous as a money-spinner. In the second, he wanted to provide a service. For he talks of a strange irony: the closer we’ve been forced to live in the big city, the lonelier we’ve invariably become. So far as his clients are concerned, he says, they usually feel a different kind of loneliness — an inner desperation which, as in the case of Amy, often causes them to cry themselves to sleep.
He means Loneliness with a capital L which people try to be rid of by paying money.
George Martin claims his computer dating program has been developed by both himself and a team of universitytrained computer analysts to “promote harmonious relationships between mature, unattached men and women.” Since its inception in 1966, when it was aimed at Montreal-based university and college students, it has promoted more than 100,000 matches, more recently involving a predominance of people over 26 years of age.
These matches are called “dates,” just as a passenger in a taxicab is often called a “party” or a “fare.” In the vernacular of the Compudate Scientific RendezVous, however, a date can mean any one of the following or a combination thereof:
Chick or Broad Boyfriend Girl friend Lady friend Gentleman friend
Sometimes, though, a date can mean a “husband” or a “wife,” There have also been times when it’s meant someone else’s husband or wife.
Like most other reputable dating firms, Compudate works on one simple premise: that in today’s busy world finding a partner for a long-term relationship is becoming increasingly complex. Divorce statistics bear this out. It’s no secret that North America’s failure rate of one marriage in three-and-a-half (one in four in Canada) is the highest in the world. But even this does not relate the entire picture. Couples known to nearly all of us will bear out an unhappy marriage to the bitter last. To them, divorce is either unthinkable on moral or religious grounds — or financially out of the question.
If statistics could be compiled on these, the failure rate of marriage as a binding institution would be documented even more pungently. Most people marry because our society perceives married life as the normal state for any adult human being, but too many people marry when they shouldn’t — or choose the wrong partner when they should. Introduction services can’t begin to protect clients from quick, headstrong decisions. They can, however, widen social frontiers and increase their clients’ chances of meeting suitable people.
“We create the relationship,” is the general philosophy, “the rest is up to you.”
Another theory on which they work is that most of the 40 million single men and women in North America probably devote more care, logic and time to buying a car than choosing a lifelong companion ... and that the number of people we meet in our daily lives is limited to a small circle of friends and acquaintances and those we meet at work, at a club, perhaps, or at an occasional party.
Of these, though, relatively few are eligible. They’re either married, engaged, or involved in a steady relationship. Those who are left are either too old, too young, too fat, too thin, too tall, too short — or have any one of 1,000 other defects we seem to find in one another.
If, however, a person at first appears physically attractive, there looms the question of personality and compatible thinking on such important issues as sex, religion, finance, family life and hobbies. Needs, abilities, life-goals and expectations must also be considered, George Martin maintains.
The chances, then, of finding an acceptable combination of qualities or facets in any one person are extremely remote. A Toronto-based agency called the Scientific Introduction Centre, which uses psychologists instead of a computer, provides a hypothetical example in its advertising material:
“A man living in a city of 50,000 people could only expect to find about
1.000 eligible women in his age group. Of these, only about 100 would have interests wide enough to offer him reasonably enjoyable friendship. Only 10, however, would come close to offering him compatibility.”
That’s 10 out of 50,000 — odds of
5.000 to one!
As any programmer will tell you, a computer is merely as good as the data fed into it. Indeed, computer dating — by no means unworkable on principle — demands full, honest disclosure to be at its most effective. There’s no point your saying you’re a Burt Reynolds when you’re a Woody Allen, or an Elke Sommer when you’re a Carol Burnett. If Amy wants to lie about her age and upgrade her knowledge of music, she’ll get what’s coming to her ... a stream of brilliant musicologists expecting to meet someone much younger.
Compudate’s data is derived from the Personality Evaluation Test’s 110 questions. Examples:
Would you accept a date who is your height or slightly shorter? I am considered by the opposite sex: extremely attractive very attractive attractive pleasant average plain
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Do you believe in romantic love?
a few drinks daily
one or two drinks a day
I consider sex before marriage a part of life a possibility a problem undesirable unthinkable
I consider my sex life strong
above average average below average low
There’s no limit to the number of dates you may receive through Compudate each month; it depends on how the evaluation test is completed. Narrow specifications will obviously result in fewer matches. For example, specifying dates between 28 and 33 years would mean a shorter list than if you had asked to meet people aged between 24 and 36. Restricting requirements to your own faith would also narrow the field.
Horrified with the possibility of a long line of virgins from Woolworth’s (even for the purpose of a book), I ensured a much shorter list by specifying nothing less than a Master’s degree. Having completed the test thoroughly and paid $45 for three months, I sat back and waited. Of course, I could have placed an ad in the local paper and lied a little. You know the kind of ad. It provides a system under which, if you happen to be a werewolf and worry about your breath, you could come out looking on the rosy side and emphasize your love of music and moonlight:
Long-haired, cheerful, athletic, sophisticated, intellectual, eloquent, quick-witted, slightly selfish, wellmannered, tactful, well-dressed, mature, 37-year-old Anglican musicologist, BA English, MA Music, late-model car, well-appointed apartment (soft rugs and round bed), astronomy, politics, Group of Seven paintings, good income, wishes to meet slim, blond, athletic, attractive, cheerful, sophisticated, intellectual, eloquent, mature, quick-witted, generous, well-read, sympathetic 28-yearold, BA History, own apartment, good income, foreign films, politics, classical literature, stocks and bonds. Group of Seven paintings, long hair and golf. Object: dinner and movies. But the ad would have been too costly. Instead, I supplied all the information and the rest was up to the computer. No reasonably well-fed computer would send a five-foot serious drinker to a six-foot woman in the temperance movement. Or would he?
I thought Amy and I were incompatible . . . until I met Angie. The ironical part is that Angie actually phoned me.
“I didn’t wanna phone you,” she said, “but I’ve been away and thought like, well, you might have been trying to get hold of me.”
I said I hadn’t yet, but would be pleased to talk.
“D’you wear glasses?” Angie asked carefully.
“Yes,” I said, “I wear my sun glasses in the movies. Sometimes I even wear a seat belt.”
“You don’t, do you?”
“Depends on the movie.”
We decided to meet anyway — at 5.15 p.m. in Place Ville Marie, where Angie works for a finance company. At 5.10 p.m., she came down the escalator, a sensuous figure in a black silk pantsuit. She was carrying her coat — probably on purpose — and it showed her body to good effect.
“How long you been waiting?” she asked.
“That’s not possible, for crying out loud.”
My first reaction was to steer her down the boutique-lined corridor toward Central Station. I was thinking all the time. I was asking myself how she knew I was her Compudate because she came straight toward me as though she’d known me for years. We had nothing to say. We just walked. Finally she broke the silence.
“Aren’t you going to help me on with my coat?”
“Sorry. I didn’t realize.”
“I thought it was natural — that men always helped ladies on with their coats, for crying out loud.”
“Sorry, I forgot.”
That was our first important conversation. Soon we found ourselves amidst the madding crowds of Central Station at around 5.20 p.m. Normally at this time Angie boards a train for Cartierville, 10 miles northwest of Montreal. Tonight we were going to dinner.
“Forget it,” Angie said. “I’ve got to hurry home. I’ve something on tonight.” “Okay, I’ll run you home.”
After that, we said no more — until we reached my car. It was raining and still we said nothing. Then, as Angie settled into her seat and fastened her safety belt, she broke the silence yet again. “Your car smells,” she said. “And it’s mucky.”
“Smells of what?”
“Pipe tobacco, what else? And look at the garbage on the floor!”
My next reaction was to get her home as quickly as I could. We took the northbound Decarie Expressway. The drive seemed like an eternity. It was raining harder and Angie and I couldn’t even manage a glance. This time, I eased the vacuum between us. “So you’re going out tonight?”
“I hope you have a pleasant evening.” “Oh, I will. This guy I know’s mother has invited me to her wedding anniversary. Twenty-seven years married. Imagine that. They’re having a party.” “Good for them.”
“And they want to borrow some records and my punch bowl.”
The traffic was thickening, and right where I thought a settled communication had fallen between us we ran into a traffic jam. Smoke from the cars rose up in the rain. My windows were steaming like a hot restaurant’s.
“So you’re taking along your punch bowl?”
“Yep.” “And they’ve been married 25 years?”
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“Twenty-seven, for crying out loud!”
The longer the wait for the traffic to move, the thicker was the tension. I lit my pipe. Angie sighed against my pipe smoke and unpeeled a Spearmint. I rolled down the window. All I got was rain, so I rolled the window up again. The news came on the radio. Pierre Trudeau had decided to carry on as Canada’s prime minister in the face of near defeat.
“Thank God for that,” Angie said. She was referring to the traffic. It was moving again.
All the time, I was asking myself what a musicologist was doing with a financecompany secretary, and it was some relief when we turned off the main highway by a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Angie lived near here, in a basement apartment. “Phone me sometime,” she said, “and we can meet for coffee.” Then she’d gone — a sensuous black figure with long hair, scurrying across the road, wrapping her coat around her against the driving rain.
So far, Compudate had not served me well. Then I met a dietician who said I ate too quickly; a physiotherapist who said I talked too much about myself; an employment agency manageress' who decreed I was a male chauvinist pig; a teacher who preferred TV hockey to dating, and . . .
“And who else?” Amy asks. “I wanna know who else.”
... A social worker called Maggie, who invited me to dinner on Boxing Day after I’d spent Christmas Day at Amy’s place.
Looking back, there was invariably something missing: chemistry, the catalyst of love and marriage, which is beyond any computer. But in Amy and Maggie, 1 found two good friends and will see them both — occasionally. “Your goddam book’ll probably be a best seller,” Amy predicts, “because everyone’s lonely and people wanna know where to find each other. Anyway, if ever it is, I want half the royalties.”
“I’ve spent-half my royalties already — on candlelit dinners.”
“That’s your stupid fault.”
The computer was first used for mating at Harvard University in 1964 when two eager undergraduates launched Operation Match — as an experiment. Nine months later, some 100,000 college students had spent time with their computer-selected “perfect” dates. The fee of three dollars seemed a token payment for a minimum of five people with whom to have fun.
In a sense, students are already fairly compatible because they all attend an institution of higher learning and have all participated in campus life. With this as a start, the computer was able to introduce men and women sharing common interests: English literature or Renaissance art. Co-eds played the game with Operation Match as another college lark.
Today, some of that fun is missing. While some agencies such as Compudate Scientific Rendez-Vous match by the month for a nominal fee of $15 (or $125 for the year), others have sent salesmen into applicants’ homes pressuring them into signing contracts of up to five years, with initial payments of between $400 and $500 and more later. Then the agencies have disappeared. As for true love from the computer tape, the fact is that the only true love around companies like these is the love of money. For this, hearts are broken, and most of the victims have been women over 30 — people, in fact, like Amy. Statistics (compiled by Statistics Canada) show how it’s feasible that introduction services, computerized or otherwise, generally have more anxious women like Amy than men over 30, and how men (especially immigrants) dominate the lower age brackets.
Like any newfangled appliance of the machine age, the computer can and does make “mistakes.” It’s not unusual for young men to be paired with their sisters and for divorced and separated couples to find each other. Be that as it may, in the United States, more than 250,000 couples can thank their lucky punch cards for their mates.
How much was actually the work of the computer, we’ll never know. But those who have married their computer dates insist that the “machine” was merely an aid in bringing them together. Nevertheless, more than five million North Americans have programmed their wants and needs and are letting their punch cards fall where they will.
Quite soon after my first Compudate experiences, Christmas — when people can be at their loneliest — began to bear down. In fact, I spent Christmas Day at Amy’s place, playing on the floor with her two children. After dinner, we exchanged gifts. The children gave me a tin of Baby’s Bottom, my favorite pipe tobacco; I gave them coloring books and crayons, and presented Amy with a silk scarf and a bamboo wine rack. She, in turn, gave me a boring book called The Enigma Of The Occult, suitably inscribed with: “Now perhaps you’ll start learning who the hell you really are. Nice to have met you.”
I hate the occult.
On Boxing Day. I found myself at Maggie’s place on the other side of town. More gifts were exchanged. I gave Maggie a recording called An Introduction To The Opera, and she gave me a recording of Mozart’s Twenty-Sixth Piano Concerto which, though I’ve heard it a million times, still manages to make me cry. “For a dear, dear friend,” Maggie wrote on the record sleeve. “It’s good to have a friend.”
After dinner, we toasted Compudate Scientific Rendez-Vous. Then we went to a Christmas festival of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy movies called Oldies But Goodies in downtown Montreal. I went back to the theatre the other day, in fact. .. and met Amy coming out with a dentist friend to whom I’d introduced her at a New Year’s office party. Like Maggie, she still belongs to Compudate. She’s still looking. Women like Amy and Maggie may be looking and waiting for a very long time. ■
Adrian Waller's full-length guide to the theory, practice and pitfalls of computer dating, Data For A Candlelit Dinner, was recently published by Clarke, Irwin.