Chapter 2: A dating app by and for widows and widowers
Nicky Wake tells Georgia Harris her story and about her dating app Chapter 2, which is forming a community for widows and widowers all over the UK
For widows and widowers in the 21st century, the prospect of dating again—especially dating online—can seem incredibly daunting. After experiencing the "Wild West" of online dating apps, Nicky Wake created Chapter 2, a dating app specifically designed for widows and widowers.
Nicky and Andy's love story
I met Andy online in 2002—that was back in the day when you didn't tell anyone you met online. We used to tell people we met in a bar! He was devilishly handsome, and he "liked" me, so I "liked" him back, and then he sent a multiple-choice questionnaire with questions like “Coronation Street or EastEnders?”. I obviously passed with flying colours because he invited me on a date!
We met at this bar in Manchester, and I knew that night it was something really significant: I said to my friend the next day, "I think I've met the man I'm going to marry". That night, he told me the two songs he wanted played at his funeral. That is a really deep first date conversation, but I thought, "he obviously thinks I'm a keeper”. Thankfully, I remembered them!
"On our first date he told me the songs he wanted played at his funeral"
We had this absolute whirlwind romance. We met in July 2002, and in the September he said to me, "why don't you move in with me?". Then in January 2003, we flew to Jamaica for our first proper holiday.
On our last night we were walking hand-in-hand on the beach, and he said to me: "would you like to come back here to get married?". Obviously, as a man he hadn't actually planned ahead. But the intention was clearly there and three months later he proposed at Chester Zoo—outside the wallaby enclosure, because that was the quietest area in the zoo!
We went back to Jamaica a year later and got married in a beachfront ceremony, with some very close friends and family in attendance, and stayed at the same resort for our honeymoon. That was the start of a wonderful life, and I was the happiest I'd ever been. Eventually my beautiful baby boy Finn burst into the world in 2007.
I set up an event management agency running glamorous award shows all around the world, and Andy left his sensible, well-paid job at the police to come and join me. Eventually I had to sack him because he wasn't very good at his job! I persuaded him to stay at home to write a novel and look after our son.
He was the world's most wonderful stay-at-home dad: while I was flying around the world delivering events, he did every school walk, cooked every meal, kept the house running, and he was my absolute rock. In hindsight, it was very special that Andy had so much time with Finn, and that has created incredibly positive memories for him.
I returned from one of these trips in 2017, and I could tell something wasn't right with Andy. He said he'd had chest pains, and my blood ran cold. I dragged him to the doctor's, who told him he was stressed, but Andy was the most laidback man you've ever known, so I knew it was something more.
We went back three times. Eventually I insisted they did an ECG, and they diagnosed a heart attack. He had three stents fitted and he was okay, but, because he was healthy and only 50, it was a shock.
Three days later I took him home from hospital, and we were toasting our lucky escape. He went up to bed, and I slept downstairs because he was snoring like a trooper. In the middle of the night, I heard the most awful noise—I went flying upstairs, and he was having another heart attack. I had to do CPR for 40 minutes, on the phone to the operator, waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
Unfortunately, in that 40 minutes, his brain was starved of oxygen. He went into intensive care and they put him in an induced coma for two weeks; when they brought him round, he didn't know who or where he was. He could barely talk: his consultant described it as like a filing cabinet which had fallen over, jumbling all the files. He moved straight into residential care and needed 24/7 medical support.
"When Covid hit the headlines, I knew it was the beginning of our end"
We entered this horrible phase of anticipatory grief: I knew he was going to die, but it could have been two weeks or ten years from then. But when COVID-19 hit the headlines, I knew that was the beginning of our end because Andy had been fighting infection after infection, and he was in a bad way.
And sure enough, I got a call early April, saying he had a temperature and they thought it was Covid. All the nursing homes were shut down; you couldn't even go and visit. On April 17 he died.
We had a funeral; we were allowed 12 people, and I couldn't see my friends and family. It was the toughest of times. Because I'd been in this state of anticipatory grief, I thought I would be through the grieving process, but I wasn't: it hit me like a train. Me and Finn hunkered down at home, and I had to furlough all my business’ staff while grieving. It was the toughest few years of my life.
Widowhood and starting Chapter 2
Eventually, I embraced my widow status. I did some brilliant counselling and they directed me to an amazing charity called Widowed and Young, for widows under the age of 51. They have Facebook groups and peer-to-peer support networks where you can meet up with other widows.
There's a real bonding process that happens between widows because we've all been through the very worst thing in the world. Making a friend can take months sometimes, but you meet a widow and by the end of the night she's your best mate because you’re inherently bonded by this absolutely awful, unthinkable scenario.
At the same time, I was starting to date again; because I’d met Andy online, I knew it worked. But online dating had changed over the past few years! It was full of rude, inappropriate photos and ghosting—it was terrible. I thought, "there has to be a better way than this".
There was another issue: when do you tell someone you're widow? Do you do that on your profile? Possibly not, because you might be scammed. Do you say on the first date? That's a bit of a passion killer! So, I was really wrestling with it.
"Online dating had changed ... I thought, 'there has to be a better way'"
I genuinely believe that widows and widowers are uniquely placed to understand each other. If you walk into my house, it is full of photos of Andy, and my heart is full of memories—it takes a very strong man to not feel threatened by that. It's a whole other world non-widows know nothing about.
I went online, and there were a couple of widow dating sites, but they were run by mainstream sites: they weren't authentic, and there was no sense of community about them. But when I was going to these widow meet ups, people always talked about finding their “chapter two”—their next significant relationship—wondering how and where to find theirs. I thought, "there's an opportunity here".
Chapter 2 and Widow's Fire
I raised some investment, including from three widows who have invested because they believe in the product and think it's much needed. We launched Chapter 2 in November last year (last weekend, we were officially one year old), and we’ve hit the ground running. We've had an incredible response from the widow community—we've already got over 5,000 members.
We're really gaining traction. We’ve had an incredible response from the press and because there are 3.12 million widows and widowers in the UK, there's a lot of market to go at. We're really disrupting the market, which is quite exciting! I'm focused on growing the community and being known by every widow in the country, and I'm speaking at dating industry conferences all over the world.
"We've had an incredible response from the press and widow community"
Our average audience age is 45+, but our oldest member is 96. We do widow meet ups every month: they're open to all widows and widowers, so they don't need to be a member of Chapter 2. We're much more than a dating site—we are a very inclusive community, with forums and blog posts. A lot of my audience have never dated online or haven't dated for 20+ years, so they need all the help and advice that we can give.
I also run Widow's Fire, a slightly naughtier sister site for people who aren't ready for a committed relationship. Very often, people aren't ready for a chapter two, but they ache for physical comfort, so that's the flirty fun, no-strings-attached space for widows and widowers.
We launched Widow's Fire because there was talk about it in our forums. People asked, "why is there not a site for this?", and I thought, "I can build that!". It's early days but it’s a real success story.
The widow and widower community
The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Some people aren't ready for dating, and that's fine, but you can come and join us for free to look at the blog posts and forums and join the conversation.
People will eventually be ready to date, but that's in their own time, and first and foremost we're here for the widow community. We're advocates for the widow community, as well as offering a dating service. That's not something that other apps are doing.
I think we are possibly the only authentic, genuine platform for dating. We've got a real USP in the sense that we're providing a much-needed service to an unserved community. It's all very exciting.
But it’s ironic: I started it because I couldn't find a new boyfriend, and then once we launched the site I thought, "I can't use my own site, that's wrong". It feels a bit naughty to be siphoning off the best men for yourself!
"The collective term for a bunch of widows is an ambush, which I think is just perfect"
The collective term for a bunch of widows is an ambush, which I just think is perfect. I definitely have an ambush of widows and widowers, and I fight fiercely to look after them, protect them and to help them navigate a way forward. We never talk about moving on: we talk about moving forward, and that is really important.
Widows and widowers have the utmost respect for what has gone before. If I date a widower, he will be happy for me to recognise Andy's birthday or have lunch with Andy's mum regularly with my son, and all that kind of stuff that otherwise could be problematic.
I think an important part of what we do putting people together who understand each other fundamentally. They almost have an emotional shorthand, and they're a lovely, friendly, fun, supportive community that I'm delighted to be spearheading and growing on a daily basis.
Chapter 2 events
It’s free to join, it's free to go out, and it's free to use all of our resources. If you want to like and message people, then you pay a premium for that, but every month we do a one-day completely free premium trial, and then three days later we'll do a special offer. And we've got 12 couples together already: at our last Manchester event, we had couples coming along just to say hello!
People often think that widow get-togethers are depressing, but they're really not! Widows have a lust for life because they know that life can change in a heartbeat, quite literally, and they live for the moment. And, until you've been on the dance floor with 50 widows, you've not really partied.
"Widows have a lust for life because they know that life can change in a heartbeat"
We're running this amazing campaign over December where we give all of our premium members a free gift every single day. We're going to do drop-in support Zoom calls on the 24th, 25th, 26th, and 31st December, and 1st January. Any members who have lost someone can drop in and chat, so people can come and have a sherry and a mince pie with us!
Advice for getting back into dating
We direct anyone feeling nervous about dating to our blog posts: they cover topics like knowing when it’s the right time to date, how to tell your friends and family that you're dating, dating safety tips, and how to write a good profile. But if anyone wants to talk it through, they can get in touch with me. I've helped some of my widows through this process: if someone says, "I don't know how to upload a photo!", I'm like, "send it to me, I'll do it for you!"
You have to be brave and you have to be bold, but a good way to interact is to come to our free events. I'll even buy you a drink for some Dutch courage, because I know how scary it is! You can just come and meet other widows, and if that's all you want right now, that's absolutely perfect, and we will welcome you with open arms.
I always give everybody my phone number so if you're stood outside thinking "I can't do this", I'll come and get you and introduce you to a load of lovely people. That is the top advice I would give: any questions at all, please feel free to reach out because I can talk to widows and widowers day long.
I think I was put on the Earth to help widows and widowers. I try and take a negative and turn it into a positive, and I genuinely believe I am doing that. I think Andy would be so blooming proud, and he'd also think it's quite funny that I've managed to create a business out of what's happened!
Chapter Two is my chapter two. Creating this business has got me through the darkest times of my life. I've found meaning, and I've found joy in helping other people find joy. That's something I'm immensely proud of.
Banner photo: Finn, Nicky and Andy on holiday in 2017 (credit: Nicky Wake)
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