Nicole Curtis is finally opening up about the new man in her life!
The Rehab Addict star, 42, tells PEOPLE exclusively she has been dating Ryan Sawtelle for more than a year. Sawtelle is the Executive Director and founder of the White Heart Foundation, a military nonprofit.
“My heart is happy and having him near me brings a calm I’ve never known,” Curtis says. “Not that it’s been easy. Everyone has a great first few months rocking everything they have in common, but after six months you start digging into the other stuff and you either grow apart or negotiate those differences and move forward. And [you] have to make a decision to focus on the fun.”
Curtis and Sawtelle first met after Curtis began following Ryan’s Instagram posts about his 8-year-old niece Arden’s battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an aggressive brain tumor found in children.
“We were coming up on the one year anniversary of [her friend’s 9-year-old daughter] Tessa’s death and when he posted that Arden had died, I was crushed,” Curtis recalls. “I cried for Tessa and also, I sat there crying knowing the struggles his family would be facing in the upcoming days, weeks, years. I reached out to him to see if we could help in anyway and also, to let them know we were all praying for them.”
On their first meeting, Curtis and Sawtelle made a pact to have all light-hearted conversation: “No mention of cancer” to “save us from both crying like babies.”
They connected again a few days later when Sawtelle helped her shoot a Rehab Addict promo. “I wanted a motorcycle in it, and he had one,” she says.
“When we finished, he asked if I wanted to take a ride,” Curtis says. “I was in no place in my life for a relationship so I didn’t really connect the dots, but looking back we’ve agreed this was a first date. Sunset on the back of a motorcycle next to this guy staring at the ocean – a pretty good one at that!”
As they celebrate the one-year mark, Curtis (who shares three-year-old son Harper with ex Shane Maguire, and 22-year-old son Ethan from a previous relationship) says she’s ecstatic about the relationship.
“I’ve been on my own so long that I never take a second of this for granted,” she says. “He’s handsome, he makes me proud, he makes me laugh and we sing every song that comes on together: him in perfect pitch knowing every word, me, not even close!”