The NCIS star, whose young-Hollywood days were punctuated by explosive headlines about a line of girlfriends and sexual conquests, rang in the new year with some well-earned perspective under his belt about priorities and what's truly important.
"'It's just us now,'" Valderrama shared a quote from the big moment when he kicked off 2020 with the reveal that he had proposed to his girlfriend of less than a year, Amanda Pacheco. He popped the question while they were on vacation in Mexico, offering up a custom-designed ring by Bychari boasting a 3-plus carat pear-shaped diamond on a slim pavé band and accented with details, as the jeweler put it, "near and dear" to the couple.
And though 2020 promptly took a rough turn for one and all (even the happily engaged celebrities), the 40-year-old actor is closing out the year on another, even higher note.
"#itsjustus3now," he and Pacheco revealed in his-and-her Instagram posts Dec. 21, building on their betrothal announcement with news that they're expecting a baby together.
Having just marked a year since meeting each other on March 19, this could qualify as whirlwind. But hey, when you know you know. Or even when you don't know...
"One year ago today!.. little did I know it was just the beginning of a lifetime full of adventures together. #itsjustusnow LITERALLY," Pacheco added on March 22, the one-year anniversary of their first date (evidence of which was conveniently captured by a paparazzo). The "literally," of course, was a nod to the two of them holed up at home together, socially distancing from the rest of the world, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring.
Though they weren't entirely cut off from their loved ones.
Valderrama is famously close to his mom, Sobeida, and in addition to setting her up with an Instagram account so she could better keep up with him while he was traveling, last year he surprised her with a new house in Los Angeles.
Next door to his own house.
"Family is everything," he said on The Tamron Hall Show in November 2019. "They sacrificed so much for my sisters and me to come to America, they sold everything they had in Venezuela so we could come here and have a better shot and have the education that they never had, you know.. .It's hard to keep your parents up to date to what you're doing, sometimes you just keep living your life and you forget [to check in]..."
True, it does become quite a bit easier, for better or worse, when they're right next door.
"You come to this country and you work really hard and, you hopefully mean well, right?" Valderrama recalled the emotional moment on Live With Kelly and Ryan after they shared a clip of the surprise—which his mom totally thought was a hoax at first. "Then all of a sudden, you wake up and you can do that. It's America, you know?"
But though he joked on The Daily Show in October that he kept his NCIS detective skills sharp by letting him mom hide stuff for him to find during quarantine, the houses aren't too on top of each other.
"We have a bush in between us," he assured Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest. "But she's also [just] a bush away."
He'd go over and smell the home cooking, the authentic Venezuelan arepas and her signature soup, and feel like a kid again, but at the same time, he added, pointing yonder, "I know I can tell my children, 'Go to your grandma's.'"
So, Valderrama, he of the youthful indiscretions, had already started thinking about having a family of his own. Which meant he had come a long way from, as Ripa put it, his and Seacrest's "hunting" days on the club scene in L.A.
As for waking up one morning able to buy his mother a new home, it wasn't all of a sudden, but Valderrama has been working hard for his success since he first showed up on That '70s Show when he was 18. He has also made a habit of taking time out to celebrate his re-adopted country (he was born in Miami but his family lived in Venezuela until he was about 14 before moving to the U.S. for good): he's a regular on the USO circuit and can always be counted on for charity events and any other occasion benefiting a good cause, just as the Hand in Hand disaster relief telethon for those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, back in 2017.
Talking to people who were calling in to make donations "reminds you of how special our country is," he told E! News at the event, "reminds us that the unity that people have sometimes attacked in our society can't be broken. These moments remind us that it's not about colors and it's about the human experience, and if we can be part of that we can help one another have a more present existence with one another—it's amazing."
The actor, who was on That '70s Show until 2006, had recently come into some good fortune at the time, joining the cast of CBS' enduring crime drama NCIS (which marked 400 episodes last month) in 2016. Gratitude be his name, he even thanked the "loyal network audience" that had watched him grow up on his long-running sitcom (albeit on a different network, Fox).
"To join a cast that's still excited to come to work every day, and after 14 years they're still swinging hard...the dynamic is great," he told the CBS red carpet reporters at the 2017 People's Choice Awards. "I'm having a great time, and Mark Harmon and I are besties for sure."
Speaking of besties...
They aren't exactly BFFs, but he does seem to be on refreshingly good terms with ex-girlfriend Mandy Moore, who always stops to take a selfie for posterity whenever they run into each other (and who also happens to be expecting her first child with husband Taylor Goldsmith). And while he and Demi Lovato split up in 2016 after almost six years together, he remained her good friend and was part of her support system when she was recovering from a drug overdose in the summer of 2018.
Maybe that's part of the reason her fans weren't too thrilled to hear that Valderrama was engaged, their dream that he and Lovato might reunite one day. But a source told E! News that Lovato herself was happy for her ex, and the "Skyscraper" singer put it all to rest this spring, explaining to Harper's Bazaar, "I'm really happy for him and I wish him nothing but the best, but we're not in each other's lives, haven't spoken in a long time," Lovato confirmed. "But I think I needed that because I needed to learn to be okay on my own. When you get into a relationship with somebody at that young of an age and then you spend six years with somebody, you don't really get to learn about yourself."
This time around, Valderrama hasn't spilled any details about his relationship with Pacheco, a model and avid deep sea diver, other than what he's posted on Instagram, having made a habit of giving his fans regular glimpses into his world of acting (such as scenes from his intense workouts that keep him in running, leaping and fighting shape for NCIS) and activism. Feeding America and get-out-the-vote efforts were front and center this year, as was the online series he created called "Six Feet Apart" to highlight the efforts of essential workers.
After sparking dating rumors that April, he and Pacheco made their first public appearance as a couple in July 2019 at the Vitamin A runway show during Miami Swim Week.
So, was he already thinking full-on domestication when he had his friend who's a professional organizer come in and rearrange his kitchen in May...?
They traveled throughout the summer of 2019, including trips to Paris and Tokyo. He Instagrammed about date nights, the stunning Thanksgiving meal Pacheco girlfriend put together for a bunch of family and friends, and about her visiting him in Atlanta where he was busy shooting the indie drama Blast Beat, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Valderrama also described dressing up with Pacheco for Día de Los Muertos as their "first annual...celebration together," obviously an implication that there would be many more to come.
Last Christmas she commissioned a playfully macabre family portrait of the two of them with Marrok, his dog—and, naturally, he loved it.
"ShePutAFrameOnIt," he captioned the pic.
Days later, he put a ring on it.
And now, as he put it to Trevor Noah a couple months ago, having a "built-in babysitter" living next door is about to come in handy.
(Originally published Jan. 30, 2020, @ 3 a.m. PT)