If history (and by that we mean the last two years) has taught us anything, come tonight, Blake Shelton will be blowing out the candles on a unique cake.
Maybe it will be a instrument, like the guitar-shaped confection girlfriend Gwen Stefani served up (alongside personalized wine glasses, a crown and a novelty shades) as they flew on a private jet to Colorado for his performance at Country Jam. (After watching from backstage, she would join him to perform their duet, "Go Ahead and Break My Heart" and her No Doubt hit "Hella Good".) Or perhaps it could be a repeat of last year's armadillo treat.
No doubt, though, he'll be celebrating more than just turning 42. His relationship with Stefani—once brushed off by skeptics as a sure-to-be-short-lived rebound or so over-the-top that it simply must be fake—has rolled past the two-and-a-half year mark and right on by any claims that it's not the real deal.
Beyond being 100 percent authentic, the union, says the five-time Country Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year, is quite simply the best thing that ever happened to him. Yeah, going through his second divorce in a decade—this time from Miranda Lambert, the woman who'd loudly proclaimed such a separation wasn't an option—was admittedly not great. But after he and his fellow country powerhouse, 34, revealed the end of their four-year marriage in 2016, a surprising thing happened.
Stefani, his Voice cohort who he'd paid little notice to throughout their first season together in 2014 ("I mean, she was on the show, high five and 'good to see ya,'" he recalled), approached him and whispered she was going through the exact same thing. Within weeks she would announce that she'd left husband of 13 years, Gavin Rossdale.
"I thought it was going to be another one of those things-are-going-to-be-OK talks," he would later recall to Billboard. "She didn't tell me much, because we didn't know each other at the time, but she said, 'I'm going through something very similar to what you're going through. I understand. And I hate it.' That's kind of how our friendship and bond started, that day."
Soon their commiserating turned into friendly texts and emails and before long, as Shelton has put it, the 48-year-old was all he could ever think about. "It's not something anybody could've seen coming besides God, I guess, because it doesn't look like it would make sense, you know," Shelton confessed to CMT's Katie Cook in 2016. "All I can tell you is that it does. It just makes the most perfect sense for us and where we're at in our lives. I tell people all the time, Gwen saved my life last year. She did, and I think she would probably tell you something similar about me."
A bold statement, but even in those early days, the couple seemed overwhelmingly confident in what they had. Sure, they knew on paper that they appeared an odd match—the deer hunting, whiskey-swilling musician from Oklahoma and the California-raised rock goddess with a penchant for designer fashions and red lipstick. "I mean, I'm a country singer and she's a ska, rock, pop, whatever it is...and it's just an odd idea," he admitted during a May 2016 appearance on Today. "But man, it's a lot of fun. I've gotta be honest about that."
So, really, who cares if haters assumed this was just a rebound romance or, worse, a conveniently crafted scheme to gain attention for their upcoming albums. They knew it was real and well-considered and built to last.
Because as lightening quick as the transition from holding hands at a Halloween party to the onslaught of Instagram-selfies and camo-filled trips to Oklahoma may have seemed to fans, their early days, those weeks before anyone realized they were more than just coworkers, were a slow burn.
From Stefani's early confession of turmoil—she's since all but confirmed reports that Rossdale cheated, telling Cosmopolitan she "went through months and months of torture"—the build up was slow, Shelton detailed to Billboard. First, they'd exchange emails weekly, he said, "'This shit happened to me, what happened to you?'—to maybe three times a week, then every day, to, 'Hey, here's my phone number if you ever want to text.'"
The transition from partners in misery to just partners wasn't easy. Asked by Rolling Stone about the moment he realized he shared a connection with the woman just a few swivel chairs over, he admitted, "It took awhile, because it's chaos. But just over time, seeing each other a lot at work, it just kind of developed into that."
That, as he said, was a union that went much deeper than people initially assumed. "Their relationship is solid," an insider reported to E! News in those early months. Echoed another source, "They both value family and they are crazy about each other. Some people don't think they have a lot in common, but they do."
Because beneath the three-time Grammy winner's bold lip and on-point platinum locks was a down-to-earth woman, raised by a tight-knit family in Orange County, Calif. She and the "Straight Outta Cold Beer" crooner both "have a good sense of humor and are kind people," explained another insider. "Gwen laughs easily and genuinely. She's real normal and grounded."
And not as adverse to the great outdoors as some assumed. Months in, Stefani was already gushing to pals about how much she enjoyed their getaways to his 1,200-acre ranch in Oklahoma, grabbing cones at the local Dairy Queen and scooping up bargains at the Dollar General. "It's peaceful and it's quiet and a lot slower-paced," noted a source. "She likes how the people are so nice and the scenery of the lakes, creeks and large ponds."
And Shelton's sizable ranch became a playground for her three sons, Kingston, 12, Zuma, 9, and Apollo, 4. "It's very tribal," Stefani explained to Marie Claire. "Blake has a sister, she comes with her kids. We cook and get muddy and dirty. There are ATVs. Being a mother of three boys, it's kind of the perfect place."
Over the years, it's come to feel like home, really. "My nature growing up was Orange County, the beach, that was our nature," she noted to Chelsea Handler on her Netflix show last fall. "That was it, you know. And that was very beautiful, incredible. But to be able to experience middle of America and the gorgeous Oklahoma—it is very beautiful there."
She, in turn, has done what she can to make her country boy feel at ease in her Beverly Hills compound. "I think that because he doesn't fit in any of my furniture at my house—he's too big—I'm like, ‘[I'm] going to get you a couch and, like, that's going to be your Christmas present,'" she told Jimmy Fallon on a November episode of The Tonight Show. She even offered to set it up outside in front of a fire pit: "I try to make him feel comfortable in L.A."
That's not to say the duo didn't experience any growing pains. Understandably a little gun shy about diving into another serious relationship post-divorce (while Shelton hasn't explicitly spoken about the reason behind their irreconcilable differences, he did throw out a seeming hint when he told Billboard "you can't even imagine the similarities" between he and Stefani's separate splits) they both had their guards up early.
"I sat down one day and I started writing this song because she and I were—even though we were, you know, beginning this relationship, we're having some trust issues with each other because of what we had been through," he explained on Today in 2016, "and you kinda get to a point where you're like, 'Man, am I really gonna do this again already,' you know what I mean? But it is happening."
Instead of inadvertently sabotaging the budding romance, he shared the first few bars he'd been tinkering around with to Stefani—a measure meant to give her a glimpse into his thoughts and, he admitted, impress her a little. She responded with the next verse and, et voilá, they had "Go Ahead and Break My Heart."
The track, and the organic way it came about, was just the latest in a long line of signs that the unlikely duo were a fantastic team. By that point, Shelton, who pals said long dreamed of being a father, had eagerly embraced Stefani's sons with Rossdale. He can often be spied on the fashion designer's social media, hiking with Apollo or enjoying a helicopter ride with Kingston. And he treated Zuma to the ultimate outing in the summer of 2016, when the grade schooler tagged along to watch Shelton host the Kids Choice Awards. And, of course, there was the time all three boys decided to copy his forearm ink with washable designs.
Settling into the father-figure role has been an adjustment to be sure. "There's days where you go, 'Oh my God, when does school start?'" he admitted to People. "An hour later you're going, 'God, I can't wait 'til they get home.' They're so damn funny. It's just my first time being around it, and it's easy to fall in love with those kids. They're pretty special."
Shelton has proved such a natural that the inevitable rumors followed. It seemed those that didn't think their relationship was a sham were waiting anxiously for the duo to announce a pregnancy. "Any time you see a story about us, it's either that it's a fake relationship or that we're already married. Or we're gonna get married, or she's on her second set of twins," he noted to Today's Carson Daly. Though he admits to understanding some of the confusion. "I think it's so hard for people to wrap their head around why Gwen would want to be with me," said Shelton. "I don't blame 'em."
At least one report seems to have legs. When Ellen DeGeneres recently teased Stefani on her show about reports the duo planned to wed, she stopped well short of a denial. "You know what? I love weddings. The kids love him. We love him. Everybody loves him," she said of the singer. "He is lovable!"
And quite desirable, having been named People's Sexiest Man Alive last fall. "How rad is my life right now?" she told E! News of the appointment. "Like, how good does that make me look?"
So she's considering it, then? "I do," she admitted to DeGeneres. "I think about it all the time."
Perhaps this year it will be her birthday wish that comes true.