I had just turned 18 and was a freshman in college, stranded in the middle of Indiana. This was supposed to be one of the four best years of my life, but life was passing me by. “On March 8, Flame Day, you’ll get a postcard—blue for girls and pink for guys—with the names and phone numbers of your three ideal matches.” At the end of the ad, I made a promise: “Any couples getting married as a result of Flame will receive a free copy of Erich Fromm’s The student newspaper wrote an article about the launch of Project Flame and followed up the next day with a lead editorial condemning computer dating. I had just discovered Camus and was big on the randomness of life. I suggested that their answers would be coded on the punch cards, and a university computer would analyze the data. Instead, we—I had a partner at first; eventually he grew scared and I bought him out—took the cards belonging to men and those belonging to women, shuffled them all up together, and made our matches by chance.
I vowed to work on my GPA, to transfer east, to leave Indiana behind me.
I left Flame to crash and burn, and spent my time in the library studying Dante and Keats.
I don’t know how many of the hundreds of couples Project Flame matched ended up together.
Some of them certainly went on dates, and I even have a vague memory that two couples actually got married, though they never contacted me to demand their copies of If only half a century ago, I had stuck with Flame, I would be the father of the startup of all times; the pioneer of an industry.
But I wouldn’t have ended up in Cambridge, Mass., or gone to that funeral where I fell hook, line, and sinker for my wife of 30 years.