Anyone who's experienced Halifax's dating scene can tell you: It's rough out there. In such a small city, the dating pool is limited. It can feel like every potential match has gone out with a friend of yours, is friends with your ex or comes swaddled in red flags. Luckily for those who are serious about finding a partner, there's someone trying to make things easier.
Jean-eva Dickie is a matchmaker and dating coach based in the city. While "matchmaker" sounds like a job title that only exists in rom-coms, Dickie is very much real—and she's helping singles in Halifax find their perfect match. At a time when dating revolves around swiping left and right, she wants to combat how impersonal the process can feel.
"I really wanted to create something that's a little bit more hands-on, a little bit more personal, and revolved around being kind and genuine to those that you're meeting and dating," Dickie says.
Dickie, who grew up in Truro, hadn't planned on being a matchmaker. After studying geography at St. Mary's University and getting an advanced diploma at NSCC's Centre of Geographic Sciences, she moved to Calgary to work as a geomatics professional in 2010. But a few years in, she realized a nine-to-five in the oil and gas industry wasn't for her. On her 30th birthday, feeling lost and missing home, she decided to return to Nova Scotia, taking up full-time work as a server while she figured out her next steps. Then, in 2017, a friend in Ontario told her about speed dating events she'd attended in Toronto.
There was nothing similar in Halifax. Dickie's interest was immediately piqued.
"We had a phone call one day, and she was telling me how it all works," she says. "I'm like, 'OK, cool, I'll host a speed dating event because I'm bored, there's nothing else to do, it sounds like fun, I'm single and it might be a great way to meet guys.'"
Dickie went ahead and planned that first speed dating event, held at the now-defunct Lion & Bright, a cafe-bar on Agricola Street. Initially it was hard to get people interested. She says she reached out to roughly 300 people, and only 16 attended. But once the ball got rolling, people wanted more. Those who'd walked away without meeting someone wanted to try again; those who'd missed out the first time were curious.
"Basically, it just blew up," she laughs. "All those 300 people I contacted, they're like, 'Well, when's the next one?' And I'm like, 'Oh, yeah, there should be another one.'"
From there, the speed dating events snowballed. One led to another the following month, and another after that. Then came specific events for different age ranges.
Dickie, who'd long toyed with the idea of being an entrepreneur, says she couldn't believe a business idea fell into her lap that way, but from that first speed dating event, it was clear she'd found her calling.
Since then, Dickie has shaped her business—J-E Dating—into an impressive organization with international reach. Realizing that singles at speed dating events weren't always compatible, she brought matchmaking into the mix, creating a database she calls The Book of Love. Every person she works with fills out a survey and gets added in. From there, Dickie is able to pair people based on their commonalities. She says over 600 people have entered the database, with ages ranging from mid-twenties into the fifties.
More services include workshops with small groups, test dates and dating coaching. Because of online dating, the range of skills Dickie teaches her clients has to be wide: She helps them edit their dating profiles, navigate texting etiquette, better prepare themselves for IRL meetups and more. With online dating still relatively new, she says a lot of people struggle to navigate it.
"Very few dating coaches are talking about practical tips on texting, online dating, building a profile, taking pictures," she says. "Online dating has only been big for seven years. And so the science hasn't really focused on that yet with dating coaching."
Samantha Scarcella is one of the clients who can speak to how J-E Matchmaking works. Not long after moving to Halifax in 2019, she came across the matchmaker's account on Instagram and became intrigued. It wasn't until months later, when Scarcella was fed up with Halifax's online dating scene, that she turned to J-E Matchmaking.
"It was just awful how forward men are on dating apps versus how they would be in real life," Scarcella says.
Being new to Nova Scotia made things especially difficult—Scarcella didn't know very many people in the province, and figured Dickie might help with that. She attended a speed dating event and two dating coaching sessions. Then, Dickie presented her with some potential matches from the database to go on a date with. Among them was Chad.
Chad—a Halifax lawyer—had been added to the database more unconventionally. Rather than reaching out to Dickie, it was the other way around: Dickie had found him on social media, thought he might be a good match for some of her clients and made contact with him to gauge his interest.
"It was sort of serendipitous that she reached out to me," Chad says.
Dickie got to know Chad and met up with him in person to vet him for her clients. From there, he was also presented a list of potential dates—Scarcella among them.
In case things went south, she didn't give either person the other's contact information, asking them to wait until after the date. Luckily, that wouldn't have been an issue either way: four months later, the two are still coupled.
Chad speculates that Dickie's success stems from how intuitive she is. Rather than matching random people from around the same age, she personalizes her choices based on compatibility.
"In a couple of short meetings, she got a pretty good understanding of me, my likes and dislikes, my preferences and aptitudes and all of that, I think probably more quickly than a lot of people would," he says.
He and Scarcella both agree that the very act of paying for a matchmaking service—a one-hour in-person consult is listed on JEmatchmaking.com at $49.99 plus tax—helps find people with similar desires. While not everyone on a dating app is looking for something serious or long-term, people who invest in their love lives are likely after similar types of relationships.
Though the pandemic shifted how dating works, with Dickie hosting more events online and outside it hasn't necessarily slowed down business. In fact, shifting things online means the matchmaker has been able to work with people beyond Nova Scotia.
Her social media presence (particularly on Instagram and TikTok, where she posts dating advice) has garnered Dickie national and international attention. The three-month long workshops she was running with local singles have expanded: one online workshop group includes people from Sweden, California and British Columbia.
In the fall of 2022, Dickie will also be hosting a singles event in Halifax with roughly 300 people from across Atlantic Canada. Dickie seems to be the only matchmaker and dating coach east of Montreal, and as she's gotten more established, inlanders as well as east coasters seem eager to use her services.
Dickie has a lot of hopes for the future. She'd like to set up franchises across Atlantic Canada and even nationally. She says she's not interested in setting up shop in big cities, but in smaller ones that are often overlooked. She'd also like to hire a matchmaker from the 2SLGBTQ+ community to serve queer Haligonians (a venture she tried during the pandemic, which she's hoping to re-evaluate with public health restrictions loosening).
In the meantime, she's just happy to be making the lives of Halifax singles a little easier. She says the dating scene continues to surprise her—and that's what she loves best about it.
"What makes a good matchmaker is somebody that just loves people," she says. "You really are going to get all types of people walking through your door."
Gabrielle is a writer and cartoonist based in Wolfville. Her work, which focuses on health and culture, has appeared in The Walrus, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and more.