What a difference a year makes.
Be it ever so trite, that phrase was nonetheless top of mind when Lauren Bushnell and Chris Lane arrived at the CMA Awards last November. Because in 2018, when the couple posed together at Nashville's annual celebration of country music, their second joint carpet coming just one night after their debut at the BMI Country Awards, their pairing was still in the very nascent stage, with his rep telling E! News the relationship was brand new.
They'd skipped past getting to know you, having been platonically connected for years, so it wasn't entirely unexpected that their romance would move at a faster clip than most. And while it may have seemed positively languid for the former reality star, who got engaged for the first time to Bachelor Ben Higgins after mere weeks of helicopter rides and hot tub make-out sessions, here they are little more than 12 months later, celebrating Bushnell's 30th birthday as newlyweds, living together in Nashville and discussing the next step on what has already been an amazing journey. (Who needs a fantasy suite when your country music star boyfriend can sweep you off to St. Lucia, Maui and all over Europe?)
"We both agree on the fact that we want one to two kids," Lane told ET back in August. Which appears to be next on the agenda now that they've moved into the sprawling Nashville pad they bought earlier this year and have been renovating ever since. They'll need a new project now that their nuptials are officially wrapped, their recently released wedding day footage serving as the music video for his single "Big, Big Plans", the same ditty he used to propose to her in her Oregon hometown this summer.
"Build a little house out on some hand-me-down land / Find a little island where we go to get tan / I bet we take our kids down there one day / And I know she wouldn't mind if I / Did a little somethin' like find a flight / Overnight to paradise and leave tonight/ And I'ma put a diamond on her hand."
So, yes, as Bushnell put it on Instagram confirming her new engaged status back in June, "The journey was well worth it."
The leg featuring Lane actually began in April 2016, when she was still celebrating her engagement to Higgins. The former flight attendant and her new fiancé were in Austin for the iHeartCountry Festival when they crossed paths with the 35-year-old solo artist, who'd already made the charts with his first single "Broken Windshield View" in 2014 and was months away from releasing his second studio album, Girl Problems.
"That's when we met initially and kind of just became friends," Bushnell recounted to HollywoodLife in 2018.
At the time she was focused on making things work with Higgins, leaving behind her job (a position that had proven tricky once passengers started recognizing her as that girl from The Bachelor), her place in California and, ultimately, her desire for a semi-normal life to join Higgins in Denver where he was hoping to dovetail his dream of getting into politics with his reality TV experience.
Freeform's Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After? "was supposed to be about Ben running for office," Bushnell recalled while speaking on Reality Steve's podcast last year. "He wanted to get into politics. And not only did I not want to do a reality show, but I also really didn't want my life to be a politician's fiancée or wife or whatever."
Though they put in a years worth of effort, "I don't necessarily think at the end of the day we were the most compatible," she said. "I was craving normalcy, at the end of the day. I gave up all these things and I just wanted normalcy, and it just felt like we couldn't get to that point, and that was frustrating in itself."
Their May 2017 breakup, announced via joint statement, became the most Googled celebrity breakup of the year.
Soon after, she went public with real estate investor Devin Antin, but by August 2018, that romance had fizzled for good—right around the time she found herself in the Bahamas with a group of pals, including Lane, the guy she'd made it a point to keep in touch with sporadically.
"Not currently dating anyone," as he told Taste of Country in July 2018, he had seem intrigued at the prospect of taking an unconventional route to love, perhaps even handing out the roses on ABC's love hunt, a series that saw him serve as surprise musical guest the year prior. "Providing I would have enough time to do it, I would," he said. "I wanna be the guy who gets to choose between all the girls."
But at some point between the ocean dips and the tanning sessions, he realized that wouldn't be necessary—not when his ideal rose recipient was the next towel over. "I was single and he was single and it just kind of naturally happened," Bushnell shared with Hollywood Life. "We were in the Bahamas but it was a group of friends, it was very low-key."
By November they were trading casual hangs for flashing lights, appearing together, first at the BMI Country Awards, then the CMAs. "She's the first date that I've ever brought to any award show," he confessed to E!'s Carissa Culiner at the latter. "She's an amazing girl, no doubt about it."
At least, he didn't have any doubts, the "Take Back Home Girl" singer aptly choosing to bring his new gal back to his parents' place in Kernersville, North Carolina just ahead of the holidays.
"[Lauren] and I have been hanging out not even that long, but realized we both like each other," he told People. When they agreed to that summer Caribbean getaway, "We had no idea we were going to end up liking each other and it spawned into what it is now. 'Take Back Home Girl' took on a whole new meaning for me, especially now that she's going to meet my parents."
It'd be nice to have a reason to be in the same zip code for a bit, the pair already having grown tired of the miles separating them.
"We have to plan ahead a little bit because she is busy doing her own thing," he explained. "She's not used to dating an artist and the whole lifestyle that it brings—you're constantly on the road doing something—but we both decided we would do whatever to make it work."
Come March, that meant Bushnell would once again leave the West Coast behind to bunk with Lane in a Nashville apartment. He'd had some reservations he admitted to People, namely that her level of cleanliness wouldn't be up to his exactly standards, but once he learned that she was equally tidy and handy in the kitchen, he knew he'd found his forever girl.
"My favorite part about living together is that she is the greatest cook I have ever met. She makes some delicious meals," he told E! News. "Going from living with nobody to having a girl in the house all the time now, has actually been a very easy transition and one that I really love a lot. We eat dinner, we talk, we sit on the couch and watch movies, whatever it is. And I'm just enjoying life right now. I'm one lucky guy, that's for sure."
All that was left, he figured, was to seal in their forever.
"I knew she wouldn't want some elaborate crazy proposal," he explained to People. "So, I decided to keep it pretty casual. I asked her parents for different places in Portland I could potentially take her to, but after a lot of thought I decided doing it at the family cookout would be the most laid-back setting and that she'd appreciate the simplicity of me proposing to her in her parents' backyard."
Casual for him involved penning an original song about their relationship and putting together a video to play during their Father's Day barbecue before he knelt down, holding out the 3.5-carat, emerald-cut diamond he'd selected after they'd gone on a "just for fun" engagement ring shopping trip months earlier.
The setup, as Bushnell remembers it was perfect, "He clearly put so much time and thought into not only the song, but also making sure everyone I love most was surrounding us in that moment," she told the mag. "Holding each other, hearing the song for the first time and then seeing him get down on one knee is a moment I'll never forget."
In fact, the only snag, Lane shared, "As I was about to propose...I stepped in fresh dog poop with my bare feet. Not at all how I planned it out in my hand."
Things went ever-so-slightly adorably wrong at their Nashville wedding just four months later on Oct. 25.
The bride, in a specially crafted silk Olia Zavozina gown, walked a bit too fast down the candle-lined aisle, perhaps an appropriate metaphor for the way she's embracing her new forever as Mr. Lane. "I was so excited," she later explained to People. "I just couldn't wait." Same for her groom, who scrapped the last bit of his vows before leaning in for a spontaneous—and premature—kiss.
"I had already gotten choked up a little bit and then I regained composure and then started losing it again," he reasoned to the mag. "So I just went ahead and ended wherever I was on my sheet, and I just said, 'I love you baby.'" As for stealing a smooch long before the "I now pronounce you..." moment, "That's out of habit because we kiss each other so much."
In lieu of an immediate honeymoon, the couple decided on a staycation ahead of the move to their sizable five-bedroom home. Coming off a 12-day tour of Europe during which Lane opened for Brad Paisley, "It was one of those things where we both agreed that a honeymoon at this time sounded like being him in our own bed with our dog," Bushnell shared.
So hours after she closed out her night by eating Shake Shack beside Lane in their hotel bed, they drove to pick up their 7-month-old mixed-breed hound Cooper, Lane gleefully proclaiming, "Buddy! Mom and Dad are married!"
Human kids, the kind they can take to that aforementioned island could just be next, considering they've already locked down their recently renovated house—complete with fixtures hand-selected by Bushnell and an oversized TV on which Lane can watch his beloved Carolina Panthers—and the diamond on her hand.
"We plan on growing our family in the next couple years after we get married," he told ET in August. "This home is one of those things we can grow into."
As Lane said, he's got some big, big plans.
(Originally published Nov. 14, 2019, at 7 a.m. PT)