A Computer Wedding

updated 06/20/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1983 01:00AM

The bride and groom approached the electronic altar. It positively glowed. The minister's words walked across their computer screen: "...so long as you both shall live?" The bride and groom both typed: "I will." The minister said: "You may kiss the bride," and the groom inputted: "((((KISS))))." Then these words popped up on the screen: "Sniff, sniff." There's one at every wedding—even at the world's first nationally computerized wedding, the happy ending to a computerized courtship and the ultimate in modern matrimony.

"We met through a computer," says the groom, George Stickles, 29, "and we dated through a computer, so it was just the next step to be married by a computer. What could be more logical?" Exactly how George met and married Debbie Fuhrman, 23, through this technological matchmaker takes a moment's explanation. Both had computers with phone hookups that let them communicate with a big computer in Columbus, Ohio. The big computer, run by CompuServe since 1979, offers its 50,000 subscribers everything from stock prices to electronic banking to games. It also has a computerized version of CB—citizen's band radio. When you type something into your computer, everybody else on "CB" sees it. It's like one big computerized cocktail party. Thus are conversations started—and romances.

On a dateless Friday night last October, George hooked into CB from the Radio Shack TRS-80 computer in his small apartment in Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. Debbie hooked in from her father's Radio Shack machine in Tolleson, Ariz. George's CB "handle" was "Mike," Debbie's "Sweet Lady." They talked—or rather, typed—to each other, hit it off, and switched to the "private chat" channel, where no one else could hear—or rather, read—their sweet nothings. They kept at it for eight hours (at $5 per hour) and vowed to meet—or rather, interface—the next night.

Sparks flew. "We got to know everything about each other," Debbie says. "I asked him a lot of personal questions, and I could tell by his responses that we'd get along."

After a week and a half of torrid typing, they talked for the first time by phone. They liked what they heard. So in November Debbie went to visit George in Dallas, where he is a service manager for American Photocopy. "I didn't want her to go back to Arizona," George says. "When I see something I want—whether it's a new disc drive, printer or wife—I go after it."

In December Debbie left her job as a runner for a Phoenix law firm, moved to Texas, and went to work as a secretary at National Car Rental. The electronic lovebirds continued to chat over CB with all their friends, signing on as "Mike with Silver" or "Silver without Mike." (Debbie had changed her handle to "Silver" because George was jealous of the attention she got as "Sweet Lady"—over 90 percent of CompuServe's subscribers are male, most of them well heeled and college-educated.) One night Debbie and George decided to hold a mock CB wedding, just for fun. A friend suggested they do it for real. "Mike just looked at me and said, 'Well, do you want to?' Debbie remembers. "Not your standard proposal, I guess."

Nevertheless, on Valentine's Day they spliced their lives. George and Debbie hired a 24-hour minister from the Yellow Pages, who read the vows aloud as a friend typed them into a computer. The couple sat at another computer, decorated for the occasion with two white ceramic swans. The parents of the bride were on their machine in Arizona and her sister watched from a Radio Shack store in Sacramento. ("My folks were shocked," Debbie admits.) More than 75 invited guests signed onto a secret computer channel with the password "Lovein." The organist typed in "dum-dum-de-dum." The photographer recorded the nuptials on a computer printout. And after the ceremony the guests showered the happy couple with the computer equivalent of rice—periods, commas and asterisks.

Bridesmaid Terry Biener (handle: "Cupcake"), the gossip columnist of computer CB, witnessed the wedding from her home computer in Valley Stream, N.Y. "It was moving," she says. "I cried during it—and I know I wasn't the only one." She reports that five other couples have met on the CB channel and later got married—though traditionally, unlike George and Debbie. In fact, one of the high-tech twosomes, Tommy and Judy Thomas of Columbus, Ohio, are expecting the first CB baby any day now.

"It's become a way of life to a lot of people," "Cupcake" explains. "I was originally a computer widow. My husband was locked in a room programming for hours. Then I got into CB and all of a sudden, he was a computer widower."

George and Debbie, though, are one couple who compute together. Still on CB most every night, their new handle is "Mr. and Mrs. Mike."

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