If matchmaker Nicole Leclerc could offer only one piece of dating advice, it would be this: Whatever you do, do not talk about your ex on the first date. Seems easy, right? Wrong. Leclerc watches people self-destruct on the topic all the time.
The bubbly, blond 44-year-old, who uses phrases such as “that’s wack” and makes them sound endearing, has run the dating service Compatibles since 2004. She’s guided close to a thousand men and women, she says, through the emotional minefields of searching for love.
Leclerc’s clients are heterosexual, nonsmoking professionals between the ages of 26 and 80. She says she will probably branch out to gays eventually, but it will mean building a whole new database of clients. And she has her hands full already.
Leclerc doesn’t use a computer program to generate matches. She does it the old-fashioned way: by getting to know clients over coffee and then using her intuition — and experience — to pair them with each other.
What makes it different from online services? There’s no anonymity, for one. Also, Leclerc collects feedback after every single date, which allows her constantly to course-correct for each person. “Sometimes you think [a client] is wildly outgoing and extroverted, and then you realize, not so much,” she says. “What he thinks of himself and projects to you isn’t always the reality.”
Seven Days sat down with Leclerc for a glimpse into the wild world of dating — and the magic of matchmaking.
SEVEN DAYS: Were you naturally a matchmaker before you started doing it professionally?
NICOLE Leclerc: Yes. I’m a Scorpio, so I’m very intuitive. And I’ve always been interested in people. You have to really like people to do what I do. You have to really get underneath the hood.
SD: How much does that first date, that first impression, matter?
NL: Oh, I wish it didn’t! But it’s so huge. People are sharp judgers. We are a drive-through society, and we just want to get in and out and check our criteria list and go. And that is so unfortunate, because so many relationships would have bloomed if they’d given a person another chance on date two or three.
SD: How do you feel about alcohol on a first date?
NL: No! Without a doubt, alcohol is a horrible thing on a first date. Down the road, it’s great. Alcohol changes our personality. It’s a truth serum. It makes people loosen up, but it makes people more predisposed to talking about things I don’t want them to talk about, such as their ex-husband or ex-wife. It becomes like a therapy session.
SD: But people have been using it to get to know each other for, like, all of history, right?
NL: I know! I’m here to say, it doesn’t work. I mean, it gets you into bed faster, certainly. We all know that.
SD: What other misconceptions do people have about dating?
NL: Pet peeve of mine: People think that because someone’s asked a question, they have to answer it. And that’s a mistake, because they’re traps.
Here’s an example: Jennifer and Dan meet, and Jennifer says, “How long have you been divorced?” And he says, “Three years.” So she says, “Oh, what happened?”
OK, that is, like, totally not supposed to happen on a date! This is what I make all my clients sign in a contract: Do not talk about your past relationships, dating history or say negative things about your exes in that first coffee meeting.
They break it all the time. Here’s why: We want to get to know someone fast; we want to share intimate things. But I say, it should bloom. When you go to a job interview, do you tell your boss, “Jeez, by the way, I’m really not punctual, I can’t spell, and sometimes I get to work late”? No! Why would it be any different on a date?
When a man is bashing his ex — I’m an ex, by the way — I don’t connect with him; I connect with her because I’m a woman. And, yes, she could be a total shrew, but I don’t want to hear about his drama. I don’t want to get on his drama train. I’ve got my own drama train!
SD: So what’s the polite thing to say to divert questions like that?
NL: I give people this little phrase to memorize, because I know this is going to happen. I say, “God, you know, that is complicated. And when I get to know you better, I’d love to share that with you.” Stops them in their tracks. Puts them in their place.
I tell my clients, “When you get out of your car for the date, when you shut the door, lock your ex and all the people, all their names, in the car. They stay in the car. They don’t get out!”
SD: Besides exes, what other topics are off limits?
NL: It used to be religion and politics. But those can be kind of fun. Those can be points where you connect with someone.
I have Democrats who date Republicans. If you’re respectful of religion and politics and not trying to change someone, it can work. I say, stay out of the past. Stay away from disappointments or depression. Don’t say, “Well, I’m on Wellbutrin.” Who wants to hear that? No one.
SD: At what point is it OK to start talking about that stuff?
NL: When you’ve connected. In the beginning, I haven’t bonded with you, so everything you tell me is a screening tool. Now, if I connect with you, you’re becoming endearing to me; I’m enjoying you and I’m engaged. I’m attracted. Then, when you tell me that same thing, it’s “Really? Jeez, your ex does sound like a shrew!”
I mean, there’s no doubt: When you’re sharing a glass of wine and telling your personal stories, that’s going to bring you closer as a couple. But when you do it in the beginning, it’s so off-putting. I see relationships that normally would have bloomed, but they’re just snuffed out because someone went there.
It’s that first-impression thing you asked about in the beginning. You get one shot.
SD: How can you tell you’ve made that emotional bond? Are there signals?
NL: You know. It’s the ethereal you-just-know.
SD: Tell me about the oldest client you successfully matched.
NL: She was 72 and he was 79 or 80 and they were on their first date, and they had an OK time. And then she told me to send her another referral. And then she called me crying. And she said, “I think I made a mistake. I’m so upset.” And she was bawling. She goes, “I think I dismissed him too soon. I think there was more there.”
I said, “Pat, there’s a simple fix to this: Call him.” She did. They started dating, exclusively, and they got married. That’s the good stuff.
SD: Let’s talk about red flags.
NL: Don’t ignore red flags. Women have a tendency to sometimes excuse them. But he’s not going to change. If he is a mama’s boy and that wigs you out, he’s not going to change if you get married.
It’s an incompatibility factor. Don’t overlook that. Why invest all this time and energy — life is so short. We have to remember that. I have so many people coming to me saying, “I wasted so many years putting all my heart and soul into this relationship that really wasn’t good.” I say, “Well, that’s behind us.” But in my head, I’m thinking, Wow, 10 years ago, you would have been a hot ticket!
It’s hard. As [women] age, our pool of available men shrinks. Men have a higher mortality rate, too. Don’t put it off until you lose 10 pounds. Or mothers, they always say, “When the kids are grown…” That is wack. Don’t put it off. Date today.
SD: What are the qualities that really make a match? Is it what you like to do, or what you believe or…?
NL: There’s no science to it. The values, ethics and morals have to align. You can’t be at different ends of the spectrum. Sometimes a shared upbringing helps. If you’re both the oldest child — birth order — sometimes it’s as simple as that.
I don’t hit a button and out spits two people. It’s based on a lot of energy — I know that sounds a little hokey, but it’s true. I can tell that your energy would be a match for Matt, but it wouldn’t be a match for Scott.
SD: Ooh, what are Matt and Scott like?
NL: You’re engaged, girlfriend!
SD: Wait, no, I’m really curious. Now that you’ve gotten to know me a little, what kind of guy would you set me up with?
NL: I can tell you are an intellect, so you’re going to need to be stimulated by the guy you’re with. He’s going to have to be smart. You’re going to get bored really fast.
SD: But I’m sure there are some things you’re thinking about me that you would never say to a client, like “Actually, you’re kind of a bitch.” Or “You’re clearly a narcissist.”
NL: [Laughs] Yes, there’s that side to this. But there’s a lid to every jar.
SD: You believe that?
NL: I really do … I mean, there are people out there who are called “habitual daters.” Those are the people who get a high on dating over and over again. The problem is, they think that they want someone, but they don’t. They get off on meeting new people all the time.
I say to them, “I can never produce what you’re looking for.”
SD: Does every jar only get one lid?
NL: No, no, no! There are multiple lids, they’re just different lids. They still screw on tightly, just in different colors.
SD: Tell me about the toughest client you’ve ever had.
NL: It’s always the person who gives up. If you give up, you’ll stay alone; you could be single forever. Because it could be the next one, right? It’s a law of averages. The more people you meet, the better your odds.
SD: How much do looks matter?
NL: To men? You don’t want to know, honey.
SD: What are some of the unrealistic expectations people have?
NL: You can’t make this stuff up. I had this guy. He was widowed. And he was describing what he wanted. And he was describing this specific woman. He wanted her to wear a certain perfume he really liked. He wanted her to have a size 7 foot. And he goes, “I want her to have petite hands, like you do.”
He was trying to re-create his dead wife. He wanted me to find the closest replica I had of her. He was describing her. It was heartbreaking.
Then you get the people who say, “I want the guy with no back hair.” Or the guy who says, “I want real breasts, not fake ones.” And I’m like, how would I know this?
SD: Any parting words?
NL: I believe in the law of attraction. So, if you put the energy out in the universe that you want something, it will come to you. If you’re proactive … you can’t just sit there and do nothing.
And “nice” matters. If you’re not a nice person, you’re not going to find love. Everybody wants to be around nice people, because there are too many of the other kind in this world.