Hilary Duff was 16 years old the first time she fell in love.
"I was like, 'I get it. Like, I actually get it,'" the 29-year-old actress recalled Tuesday on The Love Bomb podcast, hosted by her Younger co-star Nico Tortorella. But her relationship with Good Charlotte's Joel Madden only lasted about three years. "It was so all encompassing. It was so intense. It was my life," Duff revealed. "It was like every minute of my day. It was pretty major."
Dating in the spotlight wasn't easy. But by her own admission, Duff didn't know any differently. "All of my relationships have been in the public eye. Whether people care or not, that's a different story," she explained. "But enough people seem to have cared that it's talked about."
Duff's next serious relationship was with hockey player Mike Comrie, whom she wed in 2010. "I think I feel really lucky. I made a choice when I was about 19 to stop music and to stop acting. I finished my tour and I took two years where I didn't do anything. I didn't mean for it to last that long, but I just wasn't fulfilled in any way. I was just going on stage at night and I was like, 'I don't even know what town I'm in'...It just became so repetitive, and I was like, 'Why am I working like this? I'm supporting all these people.' It was just crazy," the actress said. "Taking that break, I think, really helped me step back from the whole 'Hilary Duff' thing and prioritize."
Before long, Duff was a wife and a mom. It was everything she'd ever wanted, and everything she didn't. "When we were deciding to get married, I was totally down and I felt totally ready. I had already been working as an adult since I was 12 years old," she told her co-star. "So 22 doesn't seem that crazy to get married. But I never like pictured my wedding dress and all that."
Duff protested a bit when Tortorella called her "traditional."
"I don't have the judgment of tradition. If someone chooses to not live a traditional lifestyle, obviously I don't care whatsoever," Duff said. "But some of my choices are more like, 'I got married. I had a baby.' That was very traditional. I do think there's a sweetness to all of that."
But, Duff added, "It's not necessarily realistic all the time."
Duff and Comrie eventually called it quits, though they remain close friends. "My parents are divorced, and my dad is recently remarried—at 71. Get it, dad! Very happily, by the way, which is awesome for him. I'm so excited for both of them," the actress gushed. "But [marriage] is not a sacred thing. I wasn't shamed because I got a divorce. It was a big step to take, and it was a lot of considering a little human, but I don't know. Lots of people in my family are still married."
"Actually," Duff realized, "I don't know if anyone's divorced but me."
"It is a sacred thing, obviously," she told Tortorella. "It's something to be taken very seriously, and I was so happy to be married. I think that I was in a very successful marriage for a long time. I never want to have any negative...I mean, that's hard to say: 'no negative feelings.' But we got together based on love and we separated in a very loving way. I can't imagine going through that process with anyone but him, and he continues to be my very good friend. That's honestly speaking from my heart. So, I think we handled it very consciously and with a lot of love. But marriage is sacred and marriage is not for everyone. Marriage is work. Marriage is really hard. Everyone's like, 'Are you going to get married again?' I'm like, 'I don't know!'"
The actress refuses to view her divorce as a personal failure. "All your relationships can be a success if you make it that way," Duff explained to Tortorella. "Even if they don't last forever."
Duff, who is currently dating fitness trainer Jason Walsh, isn't sure she'll ever remarry. "I don't feel the need to get married again. As much as I was ready and excited, you're like, 'Oh, next step: We get married.' That's kind of the traditional person I'm talking about that's inside of me, or however I was raised. But I don't feel the need," she admitted. "I got to have the experience and it was awesome. So, I guess if it mattered to someone else that much, I would consider it."
Dating after divorce has been tricky, especially when Duff is asked to discuss the ins and outs of her relationship publicly. "It's weird to think about every move that you make," she said. "Even [now], you're like, 'So, when we do this, what's it going to be like? What do you not want to talk about?' I'll talk about anything. It's just like before I open my mouth, 'Do I want to say that?' Everyone is going to find one thing and make it sound totally different than how I was saying it."
The "Sparks" singer tries "not to care so much" about the things she can't control, like who's invested in her personal life. "In the big grand scheme of everything, what does it really mean?"
With Walsh, Duff isn't rushing anything. "I have dreams and aspirations, but I've never really been one of those people who has set dates: 'I'm this age, so this, this and this needs to happen.' That's just not really realistic. I have a kid. My life is very fully, so I feel blessed and lucky. There are still things I want to do and experiences I want to have, and maybe more kids, but it's not like it needs to happen at this time and I need to be married. All those pressures need to go away." Plus, the idea of being with one person forever is "too scary too think about."
When Tortorella broached the subject of monogamy, Duff sighed heavily.
"There we go with the tradition again. I'm kind of traditional. But I get it. I get that it's hard to be with one person. You get really comfortable," Duff said. While she's "not a jealous person by nature," the actress admitted she doesn't want her partner to be with anyone else, either. "I understand boredom or not connecting after however many years of marriage or a relationship, but that's where the work comes in," she said. "I feel like I'd have a really hard time with that."
And what if her boyfriend said he'd previously been involved with another man?
"I don't know how to answer your question," she told the podcast host, who has publicly described himself as being sexually fluid. "I wouldn't be OK with him being with guys when I was with him. I have zero percent judgment on sexuality. I love that we're getting to this place in this world where people are fighting to be heard and accepted. It seems like it's happening at a snail's pace, but it does seem like there's so much light shined on it now, which is exciting."
"I don't want this to be taken the wrong way, but I don't know if...I don't know. I think it depends on the person and my feelings towards the person, to accept that kind of a thing. I'm not gay; I'm straight. I'm fully straight. I don't have any feelings towards women except they're beautiful. But I don't know! Put me in the position and then I might…" In the end, Duff told Tortorella, "I think it would depend on the person and how it made me feel when he told me."
When it comes to sexuality, the actress continued, "Nobody cares. But then the second people say 'nobody cares,' lots of people care. And lots of people are mean, and lots of people are keyboard gangsters and they'll f--k your s--t up behind their computer screen and be awful."
The most important part of any relationship is love. If her son asked what love is, Duff would reply, "Love is that feeling that makes you feel complete, that you get when you're around your family, that you get when you're around your friends. It's a feeling of acceptance, that you're accepted for who you are completely, and it's that beat you get in your heart, in your chest."
Tortorella had one final question for his co-star: "Do you love yourself, Hilary Duff?"
It took a moment for her to respond.
"Do I love myself? That's a good question," she said. "I think I do. I think a have a lot of things in my life that offer me love, so I don't feel like I have a lot of time to focus on the love that I have for myself. I feel more grateful for things in my life that create love around me, instead of like, 'I just love that about myself.' I'm really not that person. But I do respect myself, and I think that I'm content—for the most part—with myself. And I know that I'm a good person and that creates a good feeling, which might be love for myself. Did that make sense? Was that weird?"
"I try to just be nice," Duff added. "I just want to be a nice person and be happy."