Matched By Computer

Mike Casey ’65, M.A. Ed. ’68 didn’t know where he was ever going to find a wife.

Certainly not in class. In 1966, Mike’s first year of graduate studies, Loyola was an almost entirely male institution, and he’d given up on the only church-and-school-approved co-ed meet-ups offered on campus: mixer dances.

“Whatever mixers I went to at Loyola were few and far between,” Mike says.

Ah yes, the mixer, a classic college scene straight out of “Happy Days.”

Those awkward, over-chaperoned affairs where boys stood on one side of the room, preening and mustering the courage to approach a line of giggling girls waiting nervously on the other side for someone — and, please God, let it be someone cute with good skin — to ask them to dance.

There had to be a better way.

Across town at Mt. St. Mary’s, a women’s college, senior English major Anita Grimes had the same problem. The only men her age she ever met were colleagues in an off-campus dance troupe.

Anita, too, had suffered through her fair share of mixers and the frat parties that were fast replacing them. “Horrid things,” she recalls.

Then she heard through the campus grapevine about Operation Match—a newfangled dating service. “It was new, and people were trying it because it offered an alternative,” she says.

The process was straightforward. You filled out a long questionnaire and mailed it, with a $3 fee, to some place in Boston.

A few weeks later, you got a return letter with a list of names and phone numbers of potential dates, whose responses had been matched to yours. By a computer.

Keep in mind, in 1966, computers were monstrous machines that took up whole rooms in rarified places like military complexes and major universities. Places like Harvard, where a couple of enterprising undergrads had come up with the bright idea of buying time on the university’s mainframe to crunch and match survey data submitted by tens of thousands of hopeful college students.

Forty years before Mark Zuckerberg crossed Harvard Yard, Operation Match caught on and spread like Facebook to other campuses nationwide.

Mike Casey didn’t say much to his friends when he mailed his questionnaire.

“They’d have asked, ‘Why do you have to do that to meet girls? Why not go to the mixers where they’re all lined up against the wall?’ ”

He didn’t really expect much either, but back came half a dozen names and numbers of Los Angeles-area college women.

Mike started working down the list, coming home and making copious notes after each date. Meanwhile, Anita went out with a couple of guys on her list and immediately found them seriously lacking.

“I can’t remember much about them, but they were a disappointment,” she says. “Maybe they were science majors; we just couldn’t connect.”

Finally, Mike came to Anita’s name, called and asked her out for coffee. She suggested that he meet her after dance rehearsal, an anxiety-inducing prospect for a young suitor “already becoming a person of some girth,” as Mike says of his stature then.

His solution? A male corset. Yes, really. This is a true story.

“If anybody had known at the time, I would’ve crawled into a cave,” Mike says, “but now I think it’s funny that you can be that self-conscious, and I was.

“I knew Anita was a dancer, and we were meeting at a dance studio, and these people were going to be slim and trim. So I had two choices: I could hold my breath for 2 hours or I could put on this thing, this gift from above, and it looked like I didn’t have a gut.”

Over coffee, Anita and Mike discovered a world of commonalities. Both were L.A. natives, educated at Catholic schools and devoted to family. Both were English majors. And both knew they’d found what they’d been searching for.

“When you have it, it’s an unusual kind of certainty,” Mike says. “Not too many other things in life have that.”

Seven months later, in December 1966, Mike and Anita got married.

The young founders of Operation Match sold the world’s first computer dating service for a pittance when they left Harvard. They figured it was time to pursue a serious career path.

But Mike and Anita were just getting started. They earned graduate degrees, taught school, lived in Europe, settled near Chicago, reared two daughters and rescued St. Bernards.

Anita wrote and edited textbooks, then transitioned into special education. Mike became an organizational trainer, but eventually returned to his first love, teaching English, at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois.

Last year, Mike and Anita, now retired and happily spoiling two young grandchildren, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

Some matches are made in heaven; some, by computer. And some may take a little bit of both.