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October 12, 2015 12:55 PM

In her new memoir, Jewel opens up for the first time about her relationship with Sean Penn. And she’s got a pretty good reason for why she kept their romance under wraps for so long.

“We dated for about a year, I was about 21, something like that,” Jewel, 41, told PEOPLE. “And I didn’t want to be known for who I was dating. But he was very lovely to me.”

“And I let him know before the book came out,” Jewel added of her memoir, titled Never Broken. “He’s a great guy.”

Asked if she thought dating in the spotlight was harder than doing it as a regular person, Jewel, who also recently released a new album, Picking Up the Pieces, responded, “I mean, you can get around it. I dated a very famous person when I was not famous, and nobody ever knew about it. I think that if you want to keep things quiet, you can, and when you’re ready to go public, you can go public, too.”

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