Jenny McCarthy wasn't sure a great love was in the cards for her.
"Especially being a single mom, in the past," not finding the right person "was one of my biggest fears," she shared with E! News in 2018, "and I didn't know if it was going to be out there for me."
And Donnie Wahlberg, a divorced dad of two sons, wasn't looking for anything special—but then McCarthy walked into his life in 2013. Or, more accurately, he walked into hers as a guest on the VH1 talk show she had at the time.
On Nov. 1, McCarthy is celebrating her 50th birthday with the love of her life by her side.
Earlier this week, Wahlberg posted the viral Halloween costume meme that's going around, featuring him and his wife of now eight years as "Hot Couple," made of "100% Hotness."
So the fire still burns, more than four years after McCarthy told E! that there were "so many" things she'd qualify as her favorite part about being married to Wahlberg, but "my favorite thing is that I found my soul mate."
That's just what happens when two people still can't get enough of each other.
"Let's just say we visually give 50 Shades of Grey a run for its money," McCarthy promised viewers in a blog post she wrote teasing Wahlberg as her talk show guest in March 2013. "It gets steamy. I mean like really steamy. Being turned on by a guy is always fun but to have it legitimately happen to you on TV is to be turned back into a 12-year-old. By the time we get into the groundbreaking interview, my face turns fifty shades of RED."
They had crossed paths once before, in 2012, when they were both guests on Watch What Happens Live, but on that show they had Andy Cohen as a chaperone.
The topics covered on McCarthy's show included Justin Bieber (the scandalous celeb of the day), Wahlberg's early New Kids on the Block days, dirty talk ("Some guys do it wrong," McCarthy said; "I don't do it wrong," he fired back) and Wahlberg's virginity (which he admitted to losing in a pile of snow, to his brother's girlfriend). The pair ended up snuggling on the floor sucking on lollipops, the guest nibbling on his host's ear.
Still, despite the instant chemistry, it took two whole weeks for Wahlberg to ask her out. And yes, McCarthy was counting.
"I went a year without dating anybody," the onetime Singled Out co-host said in September 2013 on New York's 95.5 PLJ radio. "So I don't know if I was really randy or really ready, but he was there and I gave him my phone number...I've never given a guy my number, but I was interested."
McCarthy was married to John Asher, the father of her now 20-year-old son, Evan, for almost six years before they divorced in 2005. She went on to have a long relationship with Jim Carrey and then dated fitness model Jason Toohey and football player Brian Urlacher for a few months each.
"It took awhile," she recalled to Parade magazine in April 2012 about getting over her 2010 breakup with Carrey after almost five years together. "I felt like, 'Oh, I'm so alone I have to be with somebody.' But I got to a place where I was like, 'I'm happy with myself. I don't need to have a lover to have love in my life.'"
Wahlberg admittedly sowed his oats from an early age as a member of NKOTB, which he helped put together when he was barely 16, then married Kim Fey in 1999 after eight years of dating. They mutually filed for divorce in 2008 and the split was finalized a year later. They're parents to sons Xavier, 29, and Elijah, 21.
In 2010 the multi-talented star scored a plum role on Blue Bloods and between that, touring with NKOTB, which re-formed in 2007, and seeing his sons whenever possible, he was too busy to get serious with anybody. But he also had faith that the universe would help him out along the way.
"I watched Oprah Winfrey the other day, and she had a panel who were very successful," he said in a 2007 interview. "They were talking about the secret, the laws of attraction, how you think something and you put it out there and it comes your way. I can honestly say that in my life I've experienced that many times without really knowing it."
But McCarthy knew when she was ready to settle down again.
"I wanted to find the one," she later said on The Howard Stern Show. "I didn't care what package it came in, I just wanted to find it." And once she did (and Wahlberg called) that was it, though they "took it slow" at first.
"It took two weeks for him to call me back, and I thought for sure he was playing for a different team, if you know what I'm saying," McCarthy cracked on PLJ-FM. "That's of course my ego, a girl's ego: 'He must be married, he's gay, what's wrong?'"
Eventually, "we both trusted the process of dating and we didn't let stories take over," she later told E! News. Meaning, they were able to put their public personas—hers being the wild, say-anything former Playboy Playmate who had a dramatic relationship in the public eye, and his being the teen idol turned cocky man-in-a-boy-band ("the hunky rocker who knows how to work the crowd," Rolling Stone called Wahlberg in 1989)—aside and focused on the reality.
"I think a lot of times we get caught up in the fantasy of who we think somebody is, and instead we trusted getting to know who each other are for real," McCarthy said. "So we paid attention to each other, we didn't make up things, we didn't Google each other. We just kind of trusted the spirit and still enjoyed the abs at the same time."
They made their red carpet debut as a couple in August 2013, at a fundraiser she hosted in St. Charles, Ill., to benefit her son's school, featuring pros from Dancing With the Stars as the evening's main entertainment.
By the end of the year, as the seconds ticked toward 2014, McCarthy and Wahlberg started what became an annual tradition of letting the world know it was midnight with a big, dramatic kiss in Times Square when she was co-hosting Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest.
"He kisses my hands and I put my hands up the back of his shirt and rub them on his warm back," McCarthy told Us Weekly in December 2017. "He's always such a great partner during it."
While their giddy PDA moments had some skeptics wondering whether they might be pouring it on for show, Wahlberg popped the question in April 2014, a little more than a year after they first met. He proposed with a yellow sapphire in hand and a little help from the other most important guy in McCarthy's life, son Evan.
"This weekend I was sitting with Donnie and he went into the other room and out came Evan with a card that said 'Will.' And he ran away and came back with a card that said 'You,' and I knew what was happening and I just started crying," McCarthy relayed the story on The View. "And then he came out with a card that said 'Marry,' but it was spelled 'Mary,' and the last time Donnie came out with Evan and Evan's shirt said 'Me?' and he was holding the ring. He asked, 'Will you marry me?' I of course said yes.
"And in that moment, Evan yelled, 'I have another dad! I have another dad.' And it was just—it made all of us cry," she said, tearing up. "I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. He's so wonderful."
"It's still very new and shocking and exciting and I feel really lucky. I feel just blessed," McCarthy, still not entirely used to saying "fiancé" instead of "boyfriend," gushed to E! News that May.
They didn't bother with a long engagement, marrying each other Aug. 31, 2014, at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles, sight of their official debut in 2013. Apparently not the superstitious sort, McCarthy wore a dress she picked out during a shopping excursion with Wahlberg to Bergdorf Goodman's bridal section in New York.
"Donnie helped [Evan] get dressed, and then he met me and said, 'You ready?'" McCarthy recalled to People. "He put out his little arm, and we walked down the aisle, and the officiator said, 'Who's giving away this girl?' And he raised his arm, 'I am.'"
And as if the night couldn't be more of a happy-tear-jerker, Evan also spoke at the reception. "He grabbed the microphone and said, 'Can I say a few words?'" McCarthy shared. "He was like, 'I love my stepdad, I'm so glad for my mom, we're going to make a great family.' And it was really beautiful."
McCarthy also had a few things to say to their assembled guests, which included Sherri Shepherd and the other members of NKOTB.
"As a little girl, you dream of Prince Charming, and you always get disappointed because no one meets the expectations," the bride said, toasting her new husband, "but he has surpassed it by far. He has been so kind and open."
The newlyweds honeymooned at the cozy Glenmere Mansion in New York's Hudson Valley, lounging by the pool and treating themselves to spa treatments for two.
They sealed their first New Year's Eve as husband and wife with a kiss, about a month after announcing they'd be taking their relationship to reality TV with A&E's Donnie Loves Jenny, which kicked off in January 2015 with a wedding episode and lasted three seasons.
Talking about how their combined three boys were getting along, McCarthy told E! News that they had needed to "take baby steps in some areas," but overall she and Wahlberg could see "how each child is a blessing for each other. Like Evan is so influenced by Elijah, and how much Elijah means to me in my life that I didn't necessarily get from anyone before."
While letting the cameras in did not curse their marriage, as it seemingly cursed so many other couples, it did trigger a parade of headlines, many just inspired by silly arguments from the show.
"The s--t that comes out in the press, you can't say anything, it's a f--king world story…I marvel at the stuff that becomes truth in headlines," Wahlberg said on The Howard Stern Show in March 2015.
He shut down divorce rumors in December 2015, reportedly saying, "Jenny and I just read this as we are laying together, cuddling, while watching TV—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, to be specific. Not only is any story of our marital strife complete garbage, but we have never been happier!"
Meanwhile, he had gone into the restaurant business with his brothers Paul and Mark Wahlberg, starting in their native Massachusetts, and their adventures became fodder for the Emmy-nominated Wahlburgers, which lasted for 10 seasons on A&E. Not to mention, there are now 49 Wahlburgers in the U.S., Canada, Germany and Australia.
And while Wahlberg's crack that the longest amount of time he and McCarthy ever spent apart was seven hours was a joke, it didn't sound too far off from the reality.
"Because of work we've had to be apart, but in the house, if he goes to the bathroom, I'm like a dog or a toddler. I will follow him to the door, waiting for him to come out," McCarthy also told Howard Stern in March 2015.
Asked if they thought their eerily high level of infatuation with each other would have nowhere to go but down, Wahlberg said, "We're not kids anymore. We've both been divorced. We've both been in long relationships after divorce. We've both been through a lot and I think we know things to do and steps to take to keep it fresh and keep it alive."
Case in point—playing "Never Have I Ever" for Us Weekly in September 2017, they toasted to having joined the Mile-High Club the previous week. They also FaceTimed "somewhat nude," but Wahlberg had never sent an intimate selfie. "Don't put it in the Cloud, 'cause it's gonna get hacked!" he exclaimed. "You can't put that out into the stratosphere."
The FaceTiming comes in, er, handy when they're busy with work—which for McCarthy includes her SiriusXM show and her Blondies line of cocktails, and for Wahlberg includes touring with NKOTB and shooting Blue Bloods, which is in its 13th season.
But they carve out as much time as possible for togetherness, whether it's at an event or cuddled up at home. They've bonded over the simple things in life, like watching The Bachelor ("Donnie cries! It's episode three and he's crying and I'm like, 'Donnie! you can't be crying already!'" McCarthy told Us Weekly in 2019) and all the Real Housewives franchises ("I'll watch literally every single version of Real Housewives with her, but the trade-off is I get her to watch my sports stuff," Wahlberg, of course a die-hard fan of anything Boston, confided to People in 2017).
"We don't really fight, we just get quiet and go to our neutral corners," he admitted on Watch What Happens Live! in October 2017 when a caller asked what their biggest-ever argument was about. And, interestingly, "We have a rule—no makeup sex."
"It's very hot and sexy—and it drains your brain!" McCarthy added. They don't really have a rule about not going to bed mad, but rather they try not to escalate a disagreement. "We call it 'hold the light,'" Wahlberg revealed. "So if one of us is in a bad way we kinda count on the other one to hold the light. So if I'm in a bad mood or she's in a bad mood, it's like, 'don't engage.'" McCarthy continued, "Defense is the first act of war, we tell ourselves." Instead, she'll ask him what the upsetting thought is reminding him of. "It's a real therapeutic way to realize what's going on now that we've brought in from the past," she said.
Asked if reminders of past life experiences—i.e. a Jim Carrey movie on TV—ever caused tension, they seemed to have risen above such things.
"I think one time she was flicking [the remote] and Liar, Liar was on and she went, 'Ugh,' and I went, 'No, I love Liar, Liar, put it back on,'" Wahlberg laughed. "We've been through it. Everything's in the past. The great thing about having lived so much, for each of us, we really had these parallel journeys, we became really successful, like 19, 20 years old. We got married, it was unsuccessful, we had kids, we had other relationships. We got all this crap out of our systems and found our way, and by the time we met each other we were really both ready for what we have, which is the relationship we've waited for all of our lives."
And perhaps because he already knew there'd be no sex if they ended up fighting, Donnie opted to kiss Andy Cohen during a round of Spin the Bottle instead of disclose anything unattractive about his partner. "I love everything about my partner!" he insisted.
And as the months and years went by, the root of their connection—commitment to faith and family, and positive thinking—only beceme more apparent, in addition to all that still-hot-for-each-other stuff.
Opening up to E! News in 2017 about a verbally abusive relationship that ensnared her for four years, McCarthy revealed how she finally broke free and started looking out for herself.
"The path to loving yourself requires you to stop putting the blame on others and observe the choices you make that got you there. It wasn't his job to love me. It was mine," she explained. "So I chose to finally get the hell out of that relationship. I chose to be powerful not powerless."
"I got to a place in my life where I learned that I deserved love given the right way, the healthy way, and I wasn't going to settle anymore until I got 'The One,'" McCarthy continued. "And I literally said that out loud. I said, 'God, I'm not helping. I don't want to be a teacher to any more guys. I want to just love. I want someone that reflects the love that I have inside of me.' That's it. A reflection of where I'm at, because I felt like I was at a really great place and within probably a month, I met Donnie.
"We quickly, quickly knew on a deeper level that this was something very special and something that we didn't want to screw up. So we made sure that we did things the right way."
McCarthy told Drew Barrymore last year that she brought Wahlberg to therapy with her early on so that they would, indeed, do things the right way.
"I'm going to ask him, before we even have our first fight, if we can go to therapy together," she explained. "He might think I'm crazy, but I want to be able to figure out some tools and discover how we both fight. Do both of us shut down if we're mad at each other, or does one need to communicate?'"
After coming clean about their fighting styles, McCarthy continued, "then the therapist gave us tools to say, 'OK, when this happens, this is what you do.' And I'm telling you, it was one of the greatest ideas ever to go to therapy before there's a problem, to figure out how to have those conversations with each other."
Meanwhile, they could teach classes on romance. For their eighth wedding anniversary Aug. 31, Wahlberg threw his wife a surprise vow renewal—which, apparently, is just what he does every year—at Madison Square Garden.
"Some people ask 'why do you renew your vows every year?' Those tend to be the same people that also ask 'how do you keep your marriage so new?'" Wahlberg wrote, marking the occasion on Instagram. "#happyanniversary @jennymccarthy aka Mrs Wahlberg. I'm so blessed to call you my wife, and so honored to be your husband. I thank god every day for you, and I thank you always for 'taking care of my heart' — as promised. I love you. On to forever."
Thanking everyone who helped the event come together, he added, "I knew it would be tough to surprise her again (for the 8th time), but it's always worth the effort to see her reaction. You guys rock."
McCarthy wrote, "Every year you surprise me with our vows and every year I fall deeper into the rabbit hole of love with you. Thank you for making our love a priority and making everyday feel like the most ultimate adventure with my best friend, lover and soulmate. You are the #GOAT of all husbands. I love you Donnie and Happy Anniversary, my love."
Not a bad idea for a couple's costume, this year or any year.
(An earlier version of this story was published Aug. 31, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)