A woman who lost her husband at 49 has launched a dating app for widows and widowers looking for sex with no strings attached.
Nicky Wake's husband, Andy, 57, died from Covid, after he was put into a care home in 2017 following a catastrophic brain injury.
The entrepreneur, now 51, from Bury, Greater Manchester, tried dating again six months after becoming a widow, but says it was hard for people to understand what she was going through.
She launched her first app, Chapter Two, in November 2022 - and already has thousands of widows and widowers looking for a second chance at love.
Nicky realised, however, that many people who had lost their partner weren’t quite ready for a committed relationship, but were still craving physical comfort and human connection, so she set up another app, WidowsFire, for casual hook ups.
"A lot of widows are not ready for their chapter two," she explains. "But it is a really well-known and documented fact that widow's fire is a thing.
"It's a term commonly used within the widower’s community - and describes the intense, uncontrollable, or all-consuming desire for sex following the bereavement of a partner.
"You lose your life partner - I shared my bed with my husband for 20 years and then all of a sudden he's not there.
"If you have a healthy sex life, that is going to be a gaping void."
Nicky says that one of the emotions associated with widow's fire involves finding comfort.
"We all need and crave affection, cuddles and stolen kisses and actually very often widows are not in the right mental space for a committed relationship," she explains.
"We want WidowsFire to be a fun and flirty, non-judgemental place for widows and widowers to safely and discreetly satisfy their physical needs with others like them on a no-strings-attached basis.
“I hope it offers a first step for those looking to dip their toes back into the complicated world of dating without fully committing to something they might not yet be ready for."
Nicky met Andy in 2002 on DatingDirect.com. Having instantly clicked the couple married two years later in Jamaica in 2004, before welcoming a son, Finn, now 15, in 2007.
"We were living an idyllic, happy life," she says of their family life.
"He was a wonderful stay-at-home dad and did all the school runs and the cooking.
"He looked after me and made sure I could run our business - Don't Panic Events."
In July 2017, Nicky was away for work, but noticed Andy was being very quiet on the phone and didn't know what was wrong.
When she returned home, Andy told Nicky that he had been having chest pains but was reluctant to go to the doctors.
After persuading him to get checked out, Andy was told he had suffered a heart attack.
He was blue-lighted to the hospital for an ECG and fitted with a stent, with Nicky and Andy feeling like they had a "lucky escape".
But four days later, Andy suffered another heart attack while sleeping and Nicky had to perform CPR for 30 minutes.
Andy suffered a "catastrophic" brain injury because he didn't get enough oxygen to his brain and from then on required around-the-clock care.
"He couldn't walk, he didn't know who I was, and he didn't know where he was," Nicky says.
"He was hugely distressed and often he didn't have a clue who I was when I came to visit which was utterly heartbreaking - he wasn't the man I married at that point."
Andy was in a care home for three years.
"Unfortunately, Covid took him in 2020," she says.
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The following months Nicky describes as "some of the darkest periods of my life".
"I had to build a whole new relationship with Finn and run a business," she explains.
But gradually things started to improve.
"It was about me trying to rebuild my life," she says. "I did bereavement counselling and got signposted to an amazing charity called Widowed and Young - and I found a whole new network of friends and peer support through that which was incredibly helpful."
Nicky says her new app, WidowsFire, aims to be an "uncomplicated, flirty and fun space" with people who are on the same page.
"Two consenting adults looking for joy and solace is not a bad thing," she continues. "If we can help people navigate this awful world that none of us wanted to be in that has to be a positive.
"Everyone who is on the app understands the playing field and knows why we are there. Removing the awkward elephant in the room out of the conversation."
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Nicky says it is the "weirdest thing in the world" to have a new sexual relationship after the loss of your long-term partner.
"Kissing someone new after 20 years with someone who knows you so intimately is weird," she explains.
"In a long-term relationship, you don't need to overthink that stuff but in a new relationship, it can be daunting.
"I think it is really important to recognise that widows have absolutely natural needs and wants who need to feel, happy, loved and attractive.
"We are trying to create this safe space to have those conversations, to have some fun, to flirt and find who they are again."
Launching on 15 June, Nicky says the app will follow the same structure as Tinder or Bumble.
"When you lose your life partner you lose a sense of who you are," she continues. "After coming to terms with your loss you have to work out what your next steps are and if you are not ready for chapter two then WidowsFire can be a safe space for you to enjoy."
Additional reporting SWNS.