As a couple, Nick and Vanessa Lachey seem as inevitable as PB & J.
"13 years together, 8 years married, 3 kick ass kids and ONE Crazy Beautiful Love!" Vanessa wrote in marking their wedding anniversary on July 15. "Damn, I'm glad we found each other!!! And I'm still 'So Into You' I Love YOU & I Love US! Happy Anniversary, Baby. Here's to Our Forever."
But if you think about Nick Lachey just months before he met the woman who would go on to become the mother of his children, the woman he shares a birthday with today, his destiny as the happily married family man he is now was in question.
"Do I believe that I'll fall in love again one day?" he wondered in the 2006 What's Left of Me docu-special. "I mean, I certainly hope so. I certainly hope I'm not gonna be the jerk-uncle-bachelor the rest of my life." He laughed. "That's not what I envisioned for myself."
At the time, the 98 Degrees singer was untangling himself from one of the premiere love stories of the early '00s, his three-year, partially televised marriage to Jessica Simpson, and had just dated Kristin Cavallari for a hot second. Vanessa Minnillo had been dating none other than King of New York Derek Jeter on and off for several years. If anything, the two would have seemed like perfect rebound candidates for each other.
The whole thing started when Vanessa played the woman who's ripping Nick's heart out in his video for "What's Left of Me," the breakup-inspired ballad that to date is his biggest single as a solo artist. Lachey (and Simpson) had met Minnillo many times before on TRL, which she hosted between 2003 and 2007, but only in passing.
"How do we rehearse? Do we go to your trailer?" Vanessa—charmed by the description of her role as "Nick main squeeze" in what was her first music video—joked in a Making the Video special that aired on MTV in April 2006. Nick remained speechless, so she turned to the camera and insisted, "No, how do we rehearse? I'm serious!" She turned back to him, "How do you rehearse for emotional scenes? I'm supposed to be mad at you, right?" Nick smiled. "I think we just kinda have to do what they call 'improv.' Wing it. I don't think there's rehearsal time."
Vanessa turned the flirt up in a friendly manner, and it's cute to see how flustered Nick gets, but while their playful chemistry was off the charts in their behind-the-scenes clips, they were also falling for each other in real life.
"He's a gem—mini-crush," Vanessa concluded when the shoot wrapped.
Theirs, meanwhile, was not your average courtship because of the nature of Vanessa's work.
As an Entertainment Tonight correspondent, she was soon talking about her experience making the video and Nick's personal life on TV. "This guy is always honest," she said/read in introducing a package (that she also narrated) about the What's Left of Me special. "Just listen to him open up about how tough it was to watch his marriage unravel in the public eye."
"It's great to see Nick dealing with his own heartache by talking about it and being so open and honest," Vanessa concluded.
Who knew then that her take on the subject mattered more than anyone's?
"What's Left of Me" reached No. 6 on the Billboard 100, Lachey's divorce from Simpson was finalized in June 2006, and the number of sightings of him and Vanessa out together started to tick upward.
Funny enough, despite their burgeoning relationship not being much of a secret, the new couple over-corrected for the cameras when Nick appeared on TRL that July, just days after they were spotted smooching at a club. On the show they gave nothing away, with the two practically feigning disinterest in each other (though it was Vanessa's work place, after all, so really they conducted themselves quite professionally).
By the end of the year, however, they were far less shy, cuddling up at events and wearing matching USC caps on the sidelines at a football game that November.
And so their relationship progressed like any other, the pair a reliable presence on the red carpet circuit as Nick hit the studio and Vanessa continued on at TRL and co-hosted the Miss Universe Pageant in 2007. They were also welcomed into the unwelcome attention club as a couple that summer when they were photographed from afar during a romantic, supposedly private trip to Mexico to celebrate their first anniversary.
"This is the girl that I love," Lachey told OK! magazine in July 2007, as their attorney tried to prevent even more intrusive photos from being published. "It's tough to see someone you care about be unfairly judged. It's hard for me as a man to see my girl go through that. Everybody said it was a scandal. Where's the scandal? I was in Mexico with my girlfriend of a year, celebrating our anniversary on a private vacation."
Vanessa had extra plaudits for her boyfriend, telling the magazine, "I see even more now that Nick is the man I thought he was. He's very strong and has a good head on his shoulders. I know now he's definitely there for me. He has single-handedly pulled me through."
Their first war with the paparazzi behind them, they rang in 2008 with a big kiss on TRL's 2007 New Year's Eve special.
Yet as they got more serious, and even though Nick knew he wanted the whole family package one day, he started to get cold feet. There was a rumor of trouble in paradise and then, in June 2009, a rep said that Nick and Vanessa had "amicably split." In the immediate days following the breakup, Nick had a safari getaway planned with his dad and brothers, while Vanessa put on her best "Nick who?" face and made the L.A. scene with her girlfriends.
But as it turned out, this time, Nick had plenty left in the tank. Perhaps as what would have been their third anniversary that July passed him by, he realized he was being ridiculous and the two were spotted looking very much a couple again at a bar in Los Angeles that August.
"We're trying to figure things out," Nick told Us Weekly in September 2009. "I don't pretend to know what the future holds, but everything's good. Vanessa's a good girl, and I care about her a lot."
By October 2009, they were back together officially.
"I was single for a minute there, and then we've kind of patched things up," Nick said during an appearance on Good Day Philadelphia. Vanessa is "a very smart girl. She's far smarter than I."
But at least he had wised up in time before she met someone else. In November 2010 they confirmed that they were engaged and looking forward to a "wonderful future together."
Recalling the proposal, Nick said he put in his "best romantic effort." He told ET's Nancy O'Dell, "You've got to take it in stages. If you set the bar too high then you've set yourself up for failure on the honeymoon and everything else that comes after it. This is a carefully calculated plan, you know. You have to set the romance, but you have to take it in phases—so this is step one.
According to Vanessa, Nick got down on both knees ("I figured one wasn't enough," he added) and she immediately started crying—and then a rowdy group of tourists appeared, so Nick put his head in her lap and put his arms around her while the people passed by. "So they just see me crying," she laughed. "I wanted it to just be about she and I," Nick explained why he paused for a second. "I didn't want it to be shared with anybody else."
"I think I knew pretty early on that we would be a good match, that I loved her," Nick also reflected to CNN in 2010 after getting engaged, when asked when he first knew when he was in love. "So I would say, within the first six months we dated, I probably knew that was the one I wanted to be with."
Presumably that was part of his argument when he was trying to right things after their brief breakup.
The groom wore Dolce & Gabbana and the bride wore Monique Lhuillier when they got married on July 15, 2011, in a super-private ceremony on the celebrity isle of choice, Richard Branson's Necker Island, in front of a VIP assortment of family and friends who didn't even know they were going to be witness to a wedding when they accepted their invitations.
"Our wedding invitations were in the form of a plane ticket," Nick told People. "We told them they were going away and the attire was 'island chic.' It was all very vague."
"For us, this is just a stepping stone to do what we ultimately want and that's to start a family together," Vanessa said.
And that is exactly what they did, the pregnancy announcements only getting more creative every time. Son Camden arrived in September 2012, daughter Brooklyn was born in January 2015 and their son Phoenix arrived in December 2016.
Phoenix also was born 10 weeks early and weighing only 3 pounds, so they couldn't take him home for six weeks, an experience Nick called the "toughest and yet most wonderful weeks of my life."
"As Dads, I think we often feel a pressure to be this impenetrable pillar of strength," he wrote on Instagram in June. "Phoenix reminded me that the ultimate show of strength is love."
Vanessa told YourTango.com in 2013 that, if she could have offered her younger self any relationship advice, it would be, "don't take everything so seriously in love. Trust is the most important part of a relationship, closely followed by communication. I think that if you have those two things, everything else falls into place—your affection, your emotional connection."
She added, "I have no secrets and no skeletons in my closet with my husband, and I love that. I feel comfortable and at ease with myself when I'm around him. I love the woman that I've become with him."
Not that life has been all romance, cozy family tableaux and spirited Dancing With the Stars rivalries for the couple, who celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary in July.
They admitted in 2017 that they experienced a "funky time" the previous year, when they had two kids, Vanessa was pregnant with Phoenix, and Nick was on tour for eight weeks (though coming home as often as possible).
"I was like, 'man, I really have so much respect, and love and appreciation, for single parents,'" Vanessa told PeopleTV. "You have to change everything about the way you attack the day, and everything that you would think you're wired to be, it's different. I need that partner, at the end of the day to just hang out with and talk to."
But ultimately, before she met Nick, she couldn't wait to meet a great guy, to have healthy and happy babies, "to live this life of love—and I'm there. So all that was work to get to you, to get to this, to get to now."
Nick's tour dates aside, the Lacheys make a point of partnering up whenever possible, whether it's co-hosting the Miss USA pageant for the past two years or splitting parenting duties at home.
"Why we got married, and why I love this man," Vanessa explained to E! News in 2018, "even though he's toured the world and has many adoring fans, both women and men, he's still that guy from Ohio who wants to go outside and rake the...drainage ditch." This anecdote caused a little he-said, she-said, but "my point is," Vanessa exclaimed, "we are very active in our family and we want to be active in our kids' lives, and that's why I love this guy."
"And the good news," Nick added, "is we actually enjoy being parents. It's fun."
(Originally published Nov. 9, 2017, at 5 a.m. PT)