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Ryan Phillippe Has Found His Soulmate in Law Student Paulina Slagter: They're 'Madly in Love,' Says Friend

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Over the moon about his engagement to law student Paulina Slagter, actor Ryan Phillippe, 40, spent a whirlwind New Year’s weekend at eco-friendly One Hotel & Homes South Beach celebrating with his new fianc ée.

“Ryan and Paulina are very much in love,” a close friend of the actor’s tells PEOPLE. “She is changing him. He is a better man.”

One of the things Phillippe loves the most about Slagter, 24, is her mind, says the source, who spent the weekend with the couple. He is mesmerized by her intelligence and desire to make life better for everyone around her.

“Ryan feels Paulina is very intelligent and has opened his mind to equality and civil rights, areas he has never really focused on that intently,” the source adds.

“Being a student at Stanford law is impressive to him, and he is very proud of her. He feels that she has the ability to change the world and make it a better place.”

Another thing that made Phillippe want to marry Slagter was her affection for the children he shares with ex-wife Reese Witherspoon, Ava, 16, and Deacon, 12, as well as his daughter Kai, 4, with Alexis Knapp, a former girlfriend. “Paulina loves Ryan’s children, and they love her,” says the source.

Adds the source: “Ryan is madly in love and wants to spend the rest of his life with Paulina.

“And the feeling is mutual. They had eyes only for each other during the South Beach weekend. They are a wonderful couple.”