Asked to name her biggest relationship hurdle, Jennie Garth's friends wouldn't hesitate.
The problem, as they see it, is that the actress' heart is so open, so eager for love that try as she might to take things slow, she can't help but embrace romance with open arms.
"My tendency is to jump ahead in the relationship," Garth explained to Health in 2013, 10 months after announcing the end of her 11-year marriage to Peter Facinelli. "So my friend texted me: 'Keep the wedding dress off!'"
The missive wasn't meant as a diss, she explained, just solid advice as she navigated the world of dating for the first time in nearly two decades. "You know, don't move too quickly," Garth said of her new approach. "Because my goal is not to run off and get remarried."
Of course when it comes to relationships, sometimes logic has no place. And so a few years later, when a friend set her up on a blind date with actor Dave Abrams, she saw no reason to hold back.
Their first laugh-filled date on Dec. 2, 2014 was one of those nights you don't want to end, with dinner turning into drinks and soon the pair realized that they'd spent just days apart in their first few months. "We fast-tracked," Garth explained to People, noting he met her daughters Luca, 22, Lola, 17, and Fiona, 13, quite quickly. "It was a big decision on my part, but I said I really like this guy and he really likes me and if we think we have a future together, I need to introduce him to my life as soon as possible."
For a moment, 18 months really, it seemed as if history was destined to repeat itself. After a nearly eight-month separation, Abrams filed for divorce in April 2018, citing irreconcilable differences. And then, just as shockingly as it all began, Garth having said she found out about the split from TMZ, it was over, Abrams quietly filing a request to dismiss the divorce last February.
More than a year on, he's once again a fixture on her Instagram feed, in snaps from a recent getaway to Italy and trip to Aspen, and no doubt working out a way to celebrate the 48-year-old's birthday today. Garth credits some much-needed time apart, but her inner strength likely played a part as well.
"Resilience means the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties," she wrote on Instagram in November 2017 as their separation became public. "But it doesn't mean we'll never experience sadness. It proves we're able to spring back into shape after struggle has pushed us further than we ever imagined we could go. Resilience allows us to overcome and bounce back from heartache stronger and more flexible than before. I am resilient. You are resilient."
And always, always hopeful. The first time, it was an aspiring rock star. Seemingly overnight, the Urbana, Illinois native had transformed from a somewhat boy crazy teen (in a 1992 People profile she admitted to wishing she'd gone out with her school's resident free spirit after he gifted her a flower necklace) who had dreams of opening a dance studio into the type of star who couldn't visit a mall without inciting a mob of screaming, fainting fans.
With the attention at times overwhelming, the well-off 19-year-old—she banked an estimated $15,000 to $20,000 as Beverly Hills, 90210's resident spoiled teen Kelly Taylor—spent most nights at her two-bedroom Sherman Oaks, California pad, reading, watching videos and looking after poodles Zack and Sasha. But on one night in April 1991, she decided to visit a local coffeehouse to catch a performance by rock band Tongues & Tails. There she sat transfixed by drummer Dan Clark. "I thought he was bitchin,'" she recalled to People. "And I went to the party later, and there he was, magically."
The rest of their romance unfolded in kind. "Pretty soon it was completely obvious I really dug her, and she really dug me," he told the mag. And so on Dec. 23, 1991 he held out a platinum-set antique diamond. "I was down on my knees, man," he said. "She accepted in like three seconds."
On one condition: He must join her for holidays with her family in Arizona to receive an express blessing from her school administrator dad John. Noted, Iowa-bred Clark, "She's from the Midwest, so I understand why that was important to her." Still he said, "I felt like I was going to Phoenix with an anvil on my head." After dinner, the struggling rocker cleared his throat and launched into an explanation: "When he smiled," he said of Garth's dad, "it was like a big cloud lifted."
Permission in hand, the pair set about planning their 1994 vows and Clark embraced his role as the future Mr. Garth. During nights out, "Guys will come up and ask, 'Are you her brother or her boyfriend?'" said Clark. "I'll say I'm her boyfriend, and they'll say, 'God, you're lucky.' I guess I am."
His luck ran dry the following year. But Garth stumbled onto her next successful romance. Filming the TV movie An Unfinished Affair she did what countless actresses had done before and fell for her costar. Facinelli, whose credits included a handful of TV movies and a guest spot on Law & Order, left Garth charmed. "He's a babe," she has said of his clean-cut looks. And nine months later, Garth discovered she was expecting their first daughter, Luca. "We had a baby very quickly," she told People in 2007. "It was a crazy time, and it would've been easy to thrown in the towel, but Peter taught me that you have to stick it out."
By that point the couple had already formed one of those seemingly impossible Hollywood unions. They wed in 2001 after the 46-year-old proposed during a nighttime dip in their pool and welcomed two more daughters. ("I only make girls," he's joked.) Faced with their biggest hurdle—native New Yorker Facinelli preferred city life, self-proclaimed country girl Garth bemoaned the fact that he hated animals—they brokered the type of deal you can make when you're both successful actors. They'd keep a Cape Cod-style home in L.A. and a six-acre ranch in nearby Santa Ynez Valley where horses, chickens and goats could roam.
Their picture-perfect marriage came complete with Friday movie nights and bingo tournaments and RV trips with their girls. And when Facinelli's career soared thanks to a part in that little-known vampire flick Twilight, they did all the things it takes to make a long-distance romance work. With Facinelli splitting his time between California, Vancouver and New York, where he shot his hit TV drama Nurse Jackie, they replaced their evenings of cuddling on the couch with constant text messages and sweet gestures. "I'll send him his favorite tea to get him through the day," Garth explained. "I make sure there's always something to keep him happy in his hotel room."
Sure their new separate lives came with challenges, but they'd already lasted more than a decade in Hollywood, an accomplishment Garth compared to "winning an Oscar," and something they refused to take for granted.
Pointing out that well-worn truth that marriage isn't easy, Facinelli surmised, "It's when you push through the tough times that your relationship goes to the next level and you fall even deeper in love." There's was the kind of bond that would last them until they were arthritic and grey, he insisted: "We're determined to make it."
And for a while that drive—combined with what Garth called their "fair share of time on the couches of therapists"—was enough. But even with Facinelli making it a point to return to California for as many weekends as possible, the separation "took a real toll on our marriage," Garth admitted to People.
And if she was being truly honest, her own well being. More or less a stay-at-home mom at that point, "I was thrilled for him that he was taking his career to the next level, but I was also, I can see now, feeling a bit resentful and itchy in ways that I couldn't quite identify," she revealed in her 2014 memoir Deep Thoughts From a Hollywood Blonde. "All I know is that I felt like I was waiting: for him to come home, waiting for him to be free to join me in the day-to-day of our family life, waiting for the next job to be lined up that would take him far away from us again."
The damaging cycle continued "for some time," she says until fall of 2011 when Facinelli took a break from his comedy Loosies and uttered the words Garth never expected.
"The ground that had been cracking and shifting finally split open and pretty much swallowed me whole: Peter came home, and told me that he didn't think he wanted to be married to me any longer, and he thought it best that we separate so that we could get a better sense of where we stood with each other," she wrote.
His decision left her blindsided, she said: "In fact, I'd say that I didn't even allow myself to entertain the idea that my husband may have reached the end of his rope, too. I understand, now, how frustrated he was at how unreachable I'd become."
Overtime Garth's resistance to the idea gave way to a sense of peace. It helped that she was able to seek out some literal peace and quiet. As their marriage unraveled in the public, Garth signed on for the CMT reality show, Jennie Garth: A Little Bit Country, which saw her move her three girls from their city spread to a new zip code on a farm.
"I always wanted to get the hell out of L.A. and I wanted to experience a different life," she explained during a 2012 appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "I've been in L.A. working since I was 14 and 15, and I just needed fresh air. So…I moved my girls to the country and put them in public school."
The fresh air did its thing, and soon both she and Facinelli were able to find a bit of levity in their devastating situation.
Facinelli joked his way through an awkward Live With Kelly! cohosting gig that saw a few of his thirstier fans cheer about his breakup. Stressing that he still loved his estranged wife, he gave a stab at lightening the mood, suggesting a possible culprit of the split: an evening in NYC with cohost Kelly Ripa and pals that saw him don a blonde wig. "I blame ladies' night out," he said. "I woke up two weeks later in Mexico and then I got a divorce."
As Garth made the media rounds for her CMT show, she showed her own signs of healing, explaining to Leno that divorce, well, it "happens to the best of us."
That's not to say she loved seeing Facinelli embark on a romance with his former Loosies costar Jaimie Alexander that November. "I think there will come a time when it won't sting so bad," she told People at a December 2012 event. "But I'm not quite there yet."
Enter: a well-meaning Christmas gift from eldest daughter Luca. When the teenager handed Mom a copy of the self-help tome S--t Happens So Get Over It, "I thought, 'Are you kidding me? I can't believe she's so insensitive!" Garth admitted to People.
But soon she was flipping through the pages and spouting very sage wisdom in the January 2013 issue of Health. Revealing that she'd banned negative self talk from her vocabulary, Garth shared she'd taken to keeping a list on her iPhone of things that make her happy and placing Post-it notes "with quotes or reminders of my awesomeness" on her mirrors. Her favorite, she told the mag: "You are enough."
And having lost 30 pounds thanks to a clean diet and five-day-a-week exercise regimen, she set a new goal for herself: spend more time expressing her love. "They're my favorite words, and I don't say them enough to other people," she said, "let alone to myself."
Thankfully, her pals were ready to help her feel the love. "A lot of people have a 'friend' that they want to set me up with," she revealed to Entertainment Tonight Canada. And though she complained on Bethenny Frankel's talk show that dating post-divorce was "fun and it's awful all at the same time," there was little doubt she had skills.
After 90210 fans got past the idea that she might actually be dating Luke Perry, a friend she turned to for comfort post-split, they watched her find connections with a list of eligible suitors.
Moving from photographer Noah Abrams to real estate agent Jason Clark to Big Gigantic drummer Jeremy Salken to San Francisco-based CEO Michael Shimbo, she sought out an intangible spark. "I look for somebody that shares an energy," she told Frankel. "It doesn't matter what the person looks like or what they really do. There has to be that first and foremost, that zing. That thing."
And when she felt that rush with Abrams, an actor who'd appeared on That '70s Show and 2 Broke Girls, it was hard to follow her own advice to take things slow. "Things just lined up and I was like, 'I don't need it, I don't want it' and there it came," she recalled. "He just completes me."
Yes, they both know it seemed a bit bold to rush into an engagement less than four months after the met, "But when it hits you like that, you know," insisted the Virginia-raised actor. And so while celebrating Garth's birthday in Tulum, Mexico he presented her with a black diamond March 30, 2015, and the promise of forever.
By July the couple were exchanging self-penned vows in front of 120 guests at her ranch, outfitted with hanging lanterns, outdoor chandeliers and handpicked flowers. And soon the actress began floating the idea of having another child. Noting Abrams had stepped into the stepfather role "seamlessly," she told In Touch, "It would be amazing to have more kids. We would be happy with just one. But we're also happy with the girls we have, so whatever comes our way."
She just didn't predict that whatever meant being blindsided by another split.
"The [possibility of a third divorce] really devastated me," she told People last August. "I was in a really bad mindset for a good five or six months. It was just embarrassing. And it made the accepting of it so much harder. But when I finally did accept, like, we're breaking up, I had to tell myself, Dave is not an option. Because I kept wanting it. And then, just when I felt whole again, we started hanging out."
The time apart did them some good, she continued. "We both had separate learning to do, and then coming back and sharing that growth was kind of the fiber that connected us back together like, 'I see you differently now.'" They realized that, yeah, maybe her friends had been right and falling into a whirlwind romance wasn't the best to build on.
"We rushed it too much, and we had individual things we needed to work out," she admitted. "When everything wasn't shiny and pretty and fun like it had been initially, when things got challenging, [Dave] didn't know how to handle it as much."
Having worked past that roadblock, however, they're found strategies that continually improve their bond. "It's very easy to go back to those old ways," she said. "So it's a process and it's continuously wanting to better the relationship."
These days, they're back in the sweet spot, Garth raving about how Abrams keeps her "young and fun" and makes her laugh. But should they ever stumble again, she knows she's strong enough to walk alone.
"When I'm in excruciating pain, like with what I've been through with my breakup and that grief and loss that's just immobilizing, it helps to remember that it only lasts for 13 to 15 minutes, max," the Mystery Girls star explained to Health. "And then it's over. Your mind is ready to go to something else. You might come back to it, but it helps to just know that that pain is not going to last forever."
(Originally published April 9, 2018 at 12 p.m. PT)