"Twelve years ago, I said I Do to this incredible woman," Nick captioned an Instagram post for their July 15 wedding anniversary. "In the years since, we've created a beautiful life together with three amazing kids. Vanessa, not a day goes by that I'm not grateful for your love, your patience, your understanding, your fight and determination, your support, and your willingness to always work through the tough times. While we don't always have it all figured out, nor claim to, we know that together we can find our way. I love you baby!!
"Thanks for twelve incredible, exciting, unpredictably wonderful years together. Here's to many, many more……"
Well, that about sums it up. Good night, folks, thanks for playing.
But if you think about where Nick was just a few months before he fell for Vanessa, his destiny as the fulfilled family man he is now wasn't in any way a sure thing.
At the time, the 98 Degrees singer was untangling himself from one of the premiere love stories of the early '00s, his three-year, oft-televised marriage to Jessica Simpson (and he had just dated Kristin Cavallari for a hot second).
Vanessa (née Minnillo) had been dating none other than King of New York Derek Jeter on and off for several years. If anything, she and Nick would have seemed like ideal 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. Nick (and Jessica) had casually met Vanessa many times before on TRL, which she hosted between 2003 and 2007.
"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 and said, "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, her interest also piqued by her fellow Scorpio because they were both born on Nov. 9, Nick in 1973 and she in 1980.
As an Entertainment Tonight correspondent, she was soon on TV talking about her experience making the video and acknowledging Nick's dramatic personal life. "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."
Vanessa concluded, "It's great to see Nick dealing with his own heartache by talking about it and being so open and honest."
But who knew that her take would be the only one that mattered.
"What's Left of Me" reached No. 6 on the Billboard 100, Nick's divorce from Jessica was finalized in June 2006, and the number of Nick-and-Vanessa sightings 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.
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 as Nick hit the studio and Vanessa continued on at TRL and co-hosted the Miss Universe Pageant in 2007. They were even welcomed into the unwelcome-attention club that summer when they were photographed from afar during a romantic, supposedly private trip to Mexico to celebrate their first anniversary as a couple.
"This is the girl that I love," Nick 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, Nick had plenty left in the tank this time. Perhaps as what would have been their third anniversary passed him by that July, he realized he was being ridiculous and the two were spotted looking very much a couple again at a bar in Los Angeles in 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."
At least he 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 with my fiancée that we would be a good match, that I loved her," Nick also reflected on CNN in 2010, when asked when he first knew when he was in love. "So, I would say, within the first six months we dated, I probably had a good idea that was the one I wanted to be with. It's an exciting thing to kind of step into a new chapter in your life and, you know, each chapter holds new experiences, and hopefully a family and all that good stuff to follow.
The groom donned Dolce & Gabbana and the bride wore Monique Lhuillier when they got married on July 15, 2011, in a super-private ceremony on the celebrity getaway 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 2019. "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 have been, "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."
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."
"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."
The just-resolved SAG-AFTRA strike stopped most film and TV shoots in their tracks this summer, including NCIS: Hawai'i, which CBS has renewed for a third season. But Nick and Vanessa, who make the most of her show's idyllic shooting location when they can, have still been making a splash onscreen as co-hosts of Netflix's Love Is Blind, which became an early pandemic must-binge and has lasted five seasons and counting.
"We resonated with it, because it kind of is the way that we courted," Vanessa told E! News of their attraction to the concept in March 2021, "in the sense that for a full year before we really got intimate, we were just emotionally getting to know each other. I was in New York, he was in L.A."
But nothing that had come before was quite like being together all the time at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she admitted.
"It's definitely challenged us in good and bad ways," she said of the stretch that put a stop to touring and shut down TV and movie sets for months in 2020. "Definitely held a magnifying glass to things, and it's made us stronger in the end. We are forced to communicate.
"There's no leaving for a show, or leaving for a job and then being away going, 'Hey, I'm sorry, I miss you, I'm coming back.' It's having to deal with it in person, [Nick] saying 'I messed up,' or 'I messed up,' or 'I want to communicate better.' And that's been something that I will never, never take for granted and I love that this year has brought us closer than ever."
Also bringing them closer together: Co-hosting Netflix's The Ultimatum, yet another questionably premised dating show that sends everyone involved into spirals of self-reflection.
"Nick and I have been together for 16 years and we know each other—married for 11—but it's so funny that for some reason we don't learn more about each other until we're in, like, a therapy session," Vanessa mused on episode six of the reality series' second season, which dropped in August. "And the reason why I'm choking up is because I've had to get through so much s--t to be the best woman for him."
But finding the right partner "that I can trust and that can carry me through," she continued, "is what made us unstoppable."
They've been together a lot of years and have amassed a lot of pictures. Read on and see more from Nick and Vanessa Lachey's family album:
(Originally published Nov. 9, 2017, at 5 a.m. PT)