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A girl tends to learn some things over the course of two decades of dating. Throw in the fact that Miranda Lambert has been looking for romance in the quite insular world of country music and, oh yeah, going about her business while millions of fans look on and offer their opinions (read: judgments) and you could call the musician pretty wizened when it comes to relationships.
“Love is a hard road sometimes and it’s been a roller-coaster ride for me, but I’m definitely thankful for all the ups and downs because I’ve had some really good songs come out of it,” she told The Tennessean in August. Among the declines: the end of her four-year marriage to Blake Shelton that turned out to be a little messier than both had hoped when they quietly separated in the summer of 2015, finalizing the details of their divorce before the public even knew there was a chink in the country music power couple’s armor.
And then there was her recent controversial romance with fellow musician Evan Felker, a man going through his own sudden divorce from his new bride. By the time he was legally unwed, Lambert was declaring herself happily single, citing another lesson learned. “You’ve got to take the bad parts and put them on paper,” she told the paper, “and then move on to the happy parts.”
But even she had no idea how soon the happy parts would arrive. Because by this past November she’d be meeting New York City police officer Brendan Mcloughlin, a man she’d rush down the aisle with some two months later, declaring him the “love of her life.” For the 35-year-old, set to take the stage in Nashville tomorrow night alongside Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Keith Urban and others all paying tribute to legend Loretta Lynn in honor of her 87th birthday, this is the union that made everything else worth it. And between the heartbreak, the rumors, the complicated romantic entanglements there was quite a bit of everything else.
Before Lambert was one half of a country music power duo, she was just a teenager in love with Jeff McManus, a fellow musician two years her elder. The pair’s three-year romance (which comprised her 2003 star-making stint on Nashville Star and the release of her 2005 debut Kerosene) started off with a bang. When Lambert brought McManus to meet her parents in Texas, private detective father Rick gave him a house tour that ended with a stop in their gun room, she shared with People. The duo split right around the time Lambert met future husband Blake Shelton.
Love at first sight?
The two-time Grammy winner has said she was aware of Shelton’s situation when they were paired to duet “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” at the CMT 100 Greatest Duets Concert in 2005. “I knew he was married,” Lambert said on Dateline in 2011 of the 42-year-old’s union with Kaynette Williams. “I had seen their wedding pictures in Country Weekly. I knew better, like, ‘this is off-limits.'” Which is all well and good, but that’s a hard explanation to give to the heart. “I’ve never had that kind of experience with anybody,” Shelton later said on VH1’s Behind the Music. “I was a married guy, you know? Looking back on that, I was falling in love with her, right there on stage.”
The official story is that Shelton and Lambert didn’t become a thing until 2006, after he ended his marriage to Williams and decamped from their Nashville home back to Oklahoma. And the budding duo spent most of the year apart as the “Bring Me Down” singer toured and Shelton worked on his 2007 breakup album Pure BS. They made their red carpet debut at the 2007 CMT Music Awards but he still played coy regarding their status. “It depends on what day you ask,” he said when asked if they were dating. “She can get so mad at me that she just wants to punch me in the face, and we’ll say that’s it. Then, 30 minutes later we’re calling each other and acting like it never happened.”
Keeping it real
As they prepped for a joint 2008 tour “mainly because we wanted to see each other more often,” as Shelton put it to one Michigan audience, the couple opened up about how tough their initial days of long-distance were. “There were times early on there that—I know that she did and I know that I did—we were just ready to give up on it and walk away from it because there’s nothing easy about having a relationship doing what we do,” he shared with CMT News. “But we just decided that as miserable as we are together, it’s way more miserable when we’re apart.” So Lambert left Texas behind for Tishomingo and Shelton made a bold prediction about their future: “I don’t see me without her. Ever.”
Putting a ring on it
With that said, Shelton picked out a diamond, received her dad’s blessing and got down on one knee during a stroll through the woods of Tishomingo in May 2010. “It’s funny how you rehearse those things and go over what you want to say, but I probably screwed it up,” Shelton told Us Weekly of the moment, though his bride-to-be said he nailed it. “That was so Southern and old-school and perfect,” Lambert gushed to People. The diamond-and-platinum ring was “so much more perfect than I could have picked out myself,” she added, as was the post-betrothal celebration: a few Bacardi and Diet Sprite cocktails.
A down home affair
More than 500 guests (including Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Shelton’s Voice cohort CeeLo Green) turned up at the Don Strange Ranch in the bride’s home state to see the duo make it official the following May. The groom wore jeans; the bride, her mother’s old wedding gown and everyone enjoyed a meal of venison the couple hunted themselves. After the dancing and karaoke wrapped, Shelton swept his new wife off to a Mexican honeymoon. “I surprised her and flew her down there with a couple friends of ours for three days of absolute crazy fun,” Shelton told E! News. “We got to experience everything.”
Battling the rumors
Their vacation glow barely dulled before the newlyweds found themselves the subject of rumors. With mainstream success (he killed it on The Voice; she continued to rack up trophies for the ACM Awards’ Female Vocalist of the Year) came headlines proclaiming they were either expecting or someone was cheating. At first they took it in stride (“I just read in a tabloid that our marriage is falling apart!!!” Shelton tweeted in 2013. “Can’t wait to read if we make it or not,” she replied), but the chatter took its toll. “We’ve kinda told the good, the bad, the ugly as our relationship has progressed,” she said during a joint 2014 60 Minutes interview. “And people dig anyway and they make up lies.”
The end of an era
They hoped to make it as painless as possible, or as easy as it can be to unravel a decade-long romance they had proclaimed would never end. “Like, Miranda and I didn’t have any kids, and we had a prenuptial agreement, or whatever we had,” Shelton said on The Bobby Bones Show. “Once we filed for divorce…it was like a nine- or 10-day waiting period until it’s over. Even if we knew of rumblings and rumors started coming out, they would just be that. By the time anybody knew anything, it was over.” All that was left was the rumors. When reports suggested Lambert had strayed with singer Chris Young, he took to Twitter to swat the idea down: “I would not betray that friendship.”
Introducing Anderson East
As Shelton moved on quite publicly with fellow Voice mentor Gwen Stefani, crediting the No Doubt rocker with bringing him back to life, Lambert was discovering her own sweet refrain. Taking a break from penning her breakup double disc The Weight of These Wings (“My intention was to use it as therapy,” she told HITS Daily Double), she dropped by Nashville’s Live on the Green Music Festival and encountered Alabama-bred musician East, 30. “Randomly enough, she came to one of my shows,” he told radio station 92.3 WCOL of that initial September 2015 encounter. “A friend of hers introduced us.”
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Not only was the snuggle real—the term Lambert chose to introduce their pairing in a New Year’s Day 2016 Instagram—the commitment was as well. The singers were supportive of each other’s careers, with East embarking on his first headlining tour in 2016 just as Lambert was hitting the road for the sixth time. They enjoyed a strong mutual attraction, said an insider, noting East found Lambert “stunning” while she thought he was “a total stud.” And they shared a similar sensibility. Says the source, “Whenever they are together they act like free spirits.” By March 2017, a source was insisting to E! News, “They are definitely going to get married.”
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Back to the drawing board
Instead of heading down the aisle, though, the pair went straight to splitsville. A month before the breakup was made official in April 2018, Lambert alluded that all was not well during a concert in Knoxville. “I make it my mission every single time I step on the stage that no matter what, no matter where I am, I want to make you feel everything you could possibly feel,” she told the audience, per Knox News. “I want you to feel sad, mad, happy and nostalgic and really pissed sometimes. That’s my favorite.” Continued Lambert, “And part of feelings is also heartbreak unfortunately, but fortunately for me, I can use it for my art or whatever.”
Getty Images/E! Illustration
On to the next
The “Vice” artist didn’t wallow for long. As her breakup went public, so did news she’d already moved on with Evan Felker, 34, of the country group Turnpike Troubadours. Reports detailed Lambert had reached out to Felker before his band was to open for three February 2018 dates of her Livin’ Like Hippies Tour. “She was pursuing him,” a source told E! News. Her charms worked despite the fact that Felker was still wed to Staci Nelson. After their third gig, Felker didn’t return home and Nelson discovered their year-and-a-half-long union was coming to an end…after her friend read it in a newspaper. “Stacy was devastated at first,” said an insider, “but now she’s getting by just fine.”
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An arresting encounter
Happily single after her pairing with Felker somehow dissolved, Lambert met Brendan McLoughlin, 27, on Nov. 2 when she and her Pistol Annies’ bandmates Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley performed their new single “Got My Name Changed Back” on Good Morning America. A New York City police officer, McLoughlin was assigned to the NYPD’s South Midtown Precinct, which includes Times Square where the morning show is filmed. And his stunning good looks had been noted before, with Busy Philipps sharing a pic she’d snapped of the “hot cop”.
Fast track to forever
McLoughlin romantic entanglements were, in a word, complicated. Just months before linking with Lambert, the Staten Island native had been engaged to soccer player Jackie Bruno—but things unraveled when she learned he was set to welcome a child with a woman named Kaihla Rettinger. (His son was born three days after he met Lambert.) “He cheated on her and got another girl pregnant,” her mom Carol Bruno told Us Weekly. “It’s all true.” Despite the obstacles, Lambert said yes to McLoughlin’s proposal, revealing their January vows with a Valentine’s Day post. “We’ve never, ever seen her so happy,” a source shared with Entertainment Tonight, “and think she’s finally found her one and only.”