Last year, when Jessica Simpson began writing songs for her upcoming country album, Do You Know, she looked for inspiration in the spiral notebooks she uses as journals. But she didn’t have to read the words inside to remember what was happening in her life at the time. In fact, she didn’t even need to look past the covers. “I’ll choose a journal color depending on my mood,” she explains, adding how she then picks a shade of ink from her four-color ballpoint pen to further channel her mood. Having weathered two major breakups and mounds of public scrutiny over the past three years, the singer admits, “I have a lot of black [journals]. A lot of black and blue.” Yet over the last year, “I went to pink,” says Simpson, who has been dating Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo since last November. These days her journal sports a white cover, and inside it’s filled with the red-ink musings of a woman in love.
Meet the new and improved Jessica Simpson. Her current mood? “Cleansed,” she says. And she sure has been doing her share of tidying up. With her new album of country tunes, she’s not only wiped away her pop-star persona but washed some men right out of her hair extensions (goodbye, John Mayer!) with a sound that expresses her true self. “Country Jessica’s the real Jessica,” insists the Texas native, sitting inside a Nashville studio. “It’s really just the soul of who I am.” Happier personally and professionally then she’s been in a long time, the 28-year-old acknowledges she wouldn’t be where she is today if she hadn’t gone through the tough times. “The choices we make in life bring upon a lot of sadness, and a lot of hurt, and a lot of pain,” she says. “That moment you finally feel as if you’ve persevered, you’re so grateful for the color it added to your character.” She later says confidently, “I don’t regret one single day.”
And why would she? If things had been different, she might have never met Romo, 28, her “perfect guy.” “I just told him today, ‘You’re the love of my life,'” she confesses. “I don’t really ever say that to anybody.” Simpson also co-wrote a song for him, “You’re My Sunday” (which she says he recently played for his teammates to—as he told her—”get ’em pumped up”) and, in a true modern-day sign of devotion, changed her cell phone number and e-mail address to cut off any potential communication from her exes. “I don’t want anybody that’s been in my life [before] in my life anymore,” she says, “and I don’t even want them to have any way of contacting me.” Romo hasn’t done the same, but Simpson brushes it off. “I’m not a jealous girlfriend,” she says—even though in a recent interview his ex, Carrie Underwood, claims she still hears from him.
But being Jessica Simpson‘s boyfriend is no easy task. As she herself admitted to a crowd during her concert at the Indiana State Fair in August, some of the baggage, along with a list of famous exes, include her “fartin’ under the sheets,” and the ever-present photographers. Not to mention the constant rumors—of fights, breakups and pregnancy. “Now he understands most of the stuff that people say is so wrong,” she says. “I need to date a very secure man. Someone that can understand my insecurities and can let me cry and will fall asleep on the phone with me if I’m having a bad day.” (Yes, Romo does that. “I can’t even imagine what our phone bills are,” she says with a laugh.) Her new song “Man Enough,” which she wrote toward the beginning of their relationship, asks, “Are you man enough/Are you brave enough/Will you fight for love/The way I do”; Romo not only responded with his actions, but with a tune of his own. One day, she recalls, he told her, “I have this song, and I think it’s our song.” His choice: Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest.”
As blissful as life seems now, Simpson also told the Indiana concertgoers that she had days when she felt like she “wanted to die.” Those moments came in the aftermath of her split from Nick Lachey in 2005. “It’s one thing to have your marriage fail, but then there’s another thing to have the entire world watch your marriage fail,” she explains. Going from wife to single woman—something she hadn’t been since she was a teen—was an emotional transition. “It’s like dealing with a death,” she says. “You’re losing somebody and you’re losing a piece of yourself. I was so hurt. I wanted to shut everything down and just kind of hide.”
Simpson emerged in 2006 with a new pop album and a newer obsession: John Mayer. But the relationship was rocky and complicated and fizzled out last summer. Since then, she says, “I had to regain self-esteem and self-value.” When it comes to relationships, Simpson says she gives over her heart fully and expects the same in return: “I just love, so I don’t understand when people can’t do exactly what I do.” She realizes now that some of her passion came from fear of failing again. “After going through a divorce, you don’t want another relationship to fail. You’ll do anything to not have to go through that pain again. But when you do anything, you end up hurting yourself.” Indeed, she recently told Elle that she has experienced abuse in her past. She won’t get into specifics, but says, “It’s the most crippling feeling in the world. That sort of relationship is one of the hardest to break free from because they do come back to apologize, and when you do love them you can’t help but want to have them in your home again.”
With Do You Know, the singer shares her hard-earned lessons on love and fulfills a longtime dream of going country. While working in Nashville, she lived with her former assistant-turned-A&R-rep CaCee Cobb, who says, “there were a lot of sad nights when she would come back from a writing session emotionally drained and you could tell she had been crying.” Simpson—who cowrote 8 of the 11 tracks, including “When I Loved You Like That,” which she calls her “bitter song”—says, “I had someone in mind throughout the entire writing process.” (Cobb admits, “There’s one good one about [John Mayer] on there, I’ll tell you that.”) But before anyone starts trying to match her famous exes with tracks, Simpson reveals that some of the subjects are “guys that people don’t even know that I’ve been in love with. I’ve had secret lovers.” She adds proudly, “I can keep some things quiet.”
Just not her feelings about Romo. (Her dog—or as Romo calls her, “our dog”—Daisy even wears a Cowboys collar.) Compared to past relationships, she isn’t desperate to make this one work. “Tony loves me no matter what, and I know that,” she says. “And if he doesn’t, then goodbye! I had to go through the other stuff to really get to that place where I can say that.” With a new football season starting, she’s braced herself for criticism from Cowboys fans, who last year called her a jinx. Undaunted, she has scheduled her concerts and promotional work around Romo’s games.
When they are in the same city, the couple “do a lot of really normal things,” she says. “We just like to lay around and talk, go to dinner, or we’ll go to the movies.” (She says she picks out his clothing too.) Karaoke nights are also popular, and Simpson has been helping Romo improve his performances. “I give him voice lessons,” she says. Simpson may brag about knowing “so much about football now,” but Romo has yet to turn her into a full-fledged jock: During a recent trip to Seaside, Fla., to celebrate Simpson’s birthday, Romo “had to twist my arm to get on a bike,” she says. She relented—but “I actually rode it with high heels.” Despite Romo’s intense fitness regimen, she doesn’t feel any added pressure to modify her diet and exercise routines to keep up. “He would never say, ‘I think you need to lose some weight.’ If he did, I wouldn’t be dating him!” she promises. Besides, her weight isn’t something she frets over these days: “I don’t really worry about it that much when I’m happy.”
Looking back on the past few years, Simpson is most proud of the sureness she’s gained. “Everybody I’ve surrounded myself with has wanted me to be in this place for a really long time,” she says. Cobb agrees: “She never really believed in herself in the past couple years, and now she’s confident enough to show everybody what she’s capable of.” She is already thinking about her second country album—one that will probably be filled with fewer songs about heartbreak and more about love. “I’m not just dating for fun,” says Simpson. “I want kids someday. I want a family.” Does she picture Romo as the guy to give her all of that? “I do.”