“I’ve never been happier,” Windham-Burke tells PEOPLE, adding, “My life now is what I’ve wanted for so long”
After exchanging promise rings in January, committing to one another in a Las Vegas wedding chapel on Valentine’s Day, moving together to Tennessee in the spring and getting a pair of matching tattoos to mark their bond earlier this month, the couple took the official step towards their plan to marry, with Windham-Burke, 45, proposing to Spinner, 39, at 14th Street Park in New York City.
“I’ve never been happier,” the Real Housewives of Orange County alum tells PEOPLE, celebrating the milestone. “Jen is my person. She said to me once, ‘How much do you love me?’ And I looked at her and said, ‘It’s not how much I love you. It’s how small I love you. I love you on a molecular level.’ And that’s really it. My DNA was made for her. I’m a thrilled to be able to say now, ‘This is my fiancée’ — just like I know, I’m going to one day be able to say, ‘This is my wife.’ “
Windham-Burke planned the whole proposal, part of a day of activities she arranged for Spinner.
The mother of seven — who shares children Bella, 22, Rowan, 20, Jacob, 17, 9-year-old twins Caden and Curren, Koa, 7, and Hazel, 4, with soon-to-be ex-husband Sean Burke — recreated her first date for Spinner, wearing the exact same outfit and going step-by-step through the things the two had done on that day.
“We had been talking over direct message and over the phone for few weeks at that point, but we hadn’t met in person yet,” Windham-Burke recalls. “And I we both went into the day thinking we would just be friends. In fact, she’ll tell you, she came more for a story! She was like, ‘Won’t this be a funny story to tell my friends one day? The time I hung out with a Housewife?’ “
But as the spent the day together — walking the High Line, getting popsicles and talking — they both recognized there was much more to their connection, with Spinner telling Windham-Burke the preconceived notion she had about her from RHOC wasn’t at all who she was.
“There wasn’t a topic we didn’t discuss that first day,” says Windham-Burke. “We got deep, fast. It was, ‘What’s important to you? What do you want out of life? What’s your relationship with your family? Do you want children? Are you spiritual?’ We talked about it all. Through that, we found we had all these things in common. And we quickly started to realize, ‘Oh, this is something else.’
While on Little Island, Windham-Burke and Spinner shared their first kiss. “And then we just kept kissing for the next two hours, all the way back to Penn station,” recalls Windham-Burke. “She was staying with her brother on Long Island and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want her to go.’ “
“By the end of the day, I was like, ‘There’s something about this woman, I’m know I’m going to be with her forever,’ ” Windham-Burke says. “So it felt fitting to recreate that day, but now with me showing her, “Yes, I do want to be with you forever — and I have a ring to prove it!’ “
That ring, speaking of, was something Windham-Burke picked out while back home at a local antique store in Tennessee. “She wanted more of a masculine style ring, and she wanted it to be antique because she loves things with stories,” Windham-Burke tells PEOPLE. “So I found this beautiful gold deco ring with her birthstone, which is a ruby, and four diamonds on the sie.”
After walking the High Line and visiting Little Island, Windham-Burke took Spinner to 14th Street Park, where Under the Tree — a female founded, minority-owned luxury picnic company — helped set up a spread for the two, with macaroons, pictures of the pair from their year together, and a “Marry Me” sign. “It was so beautiful and Jen was shocked when she saw it,” says Windham-Burke. “I couldn’t have done it without them. They made the day that much more special.”
As for the wedding, Windham-Burke and Spinner — who identifies as non-binary and uses she/her pronouns — have previously discussed doing it in Nashville, at an old home, next October. “It’ll be something intimate and very country,” laughs Windham-Burke. “Think cowboy boots.”
Of course, before that happens, Windham-Burke will have to get divorced. She officially filed in October 2022 after 23 years of marriage to Burke, and expects things to be wrapped within the next few months.
“Part of the reason I proposed now was because I now have an end date in my divorce; we’re about 80 days from it wrapping,” Windham-Burke tells PEOPLE. “Before, the divorce seemed endless, like it would never happen, so we did things like exchange promise rings or have that Vegas wedding with Elvis in efforts to set intentions in our relationship. ‘This is what we are promising to each other. This is our commitment to start a life together.’ Now, it’s different. I proposed today knowing we can actually start planning a wedding. So it feels incredible.”
In fact, Windham-Burke looks at this moment as the ending of a very tough chapter.
“My life was kind of up in turmoil for awhile,” says Windham-Burke, who got sober in January 2020 and came out as Lesbian nearly a year later. “Through all those changes in my life, I wasn’t at peace. I was working on myself, trying to stay sober, trying to make things work with Sean — all while coming to terms with my sexuality and jumping from relationship to relationship. I was struggling! I was struggling to be a mom, to be a present partner and to really sit with myself. And after meeting Jen, all that changed.”
“Jen’s been the balance for me. She’s the one to be like, ‘It’s going to be okay. I’m here. I got you.’ She’s shown up for me in ways I can’t even explain, and shown up for my kids too. There were times when, post-separation, I worried the kids and I would not be okay. But she never faltered. She’s been an amazing partner to me and an amazing stepmom to my kids. And getting engaged is a way of showing my kids too, ‘This is your mom. She’s not going anywhere.’ “
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The reality star gets emotional, holding back tears as she lets what she just said sit in.
“My life now is what I’ve wanted for so long,” she says. “You have to realize, I got to a certain point where I realized that I had made my life about all the wrong things. And it set in, that the simple life is what actually want. I am frantic. I’m over-the-top. I’m emotionally unstable at times. And Jen just rolls with it and loves me for just the way I am. And in that, comes peace. That’s something I haven’t seen in myself for a long time, maybe not ever.
“I was always looking for something — whether it was drinking or partying or a TV show or fame — and I couldn’t find it. And obviously, it’s not one person who creates calm in you; it’s a bunch of things in your life coming together at the same time. But I can honestly say, Jen started the ball rolling on that all. And I’m not grasping for anything anymore,” Windham-Burke says. “I’ve finally found it.”
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