Carly Pearce recently shared a cozy selfie with former MLB player Riley King

Carly Pearce has a lot of reasons to be happy now.

The country star, 31, tells PEOPLE (the TV show!) all about the milestones in her career, including her chart-topping EP 29, featuring her latest hit "Next Girl," and in her love life following her divorce from ex-husband Michael Ray, which was finalized in September 2020.

Recently, Pearce shared a cozy selfie of herself and former MLB player Riley King on her Instagram Story. When asked about the status of her rumored romance, the two-time ACM Award winner stayed coy but did share, "All I will say is I'm happy. I'll tell you, I'm very happy about that."

Pearce filed for divorce from Ray in June 2020 after eight months of marriage. Amid heartbreak, Pearce penned several songs for 29 — but she says she's not closing herself off from falling in love again. "I believe in love. I want to find love. I got married because I was in love. I mean, that's the whole thing. I absolutely will never let a failed relationship keep me from finding that love that I deserve," she explains.

29 was a collection of seven songs she wrote in the last year of her twenties that documented her divorce as well as the September 2019 death of her close friend and music producer Michael James Ryan, known as Busbee, who died at age 43 of brain cancer. (Her song "Show Me Around" is a homage to her late friend.)

Carly Pearce
Carly Pearce's 29
| Credit: Allister Ann for Big Machine Records

"I'm such a situational writer," the "I Hope You're Happy Now" singer says, adding that the downtime during the COVID lockdown was introspective. "Thankfully I now see the good of quarantine. For me, it was kind of a time to shut down, really take care of myself, take care of my heart, focus on music and focus on what I wanted to say. If you look at the people that co-wrote the songs with me, they're my close friends and I trusted them. It was kind of like therapy for me. And I really do feel like I was able to understand song by song, how I was feeling."

And how she was feeling also allowed her to process the emotions about her failed first marriage. "I got married to stay married and to only get married once. I think that never in a million years, if you would have told me that this was going to be my story, that it would be that, but unfortunately it was," Pearce reflects.

"I have found — because I decided to go there in this music — a lot of other people's lives, maybe not divorced but some especially young, nobody wants to talk about divorce in your 20s. Nobody wants to talk about just the bad things that maybe people think, 'Oh well, that's not going to happen to me,' " she says.

"I just got married and it looked like a fairytale, but because I decided to share my truth, it felt like other people now are feeling like they can too and they have somebody. We all have faces in the public eye for a reason and you know for music, but now I'm putting a face to something that a lot of people hold shame around," the "Every Little Thing" hitmaker shares.

Carly Pearce and Lee Brice ACM Awards win
Carly Pearce
| Credit: Getty Images/Courtesy of the Academy of Country Music

Pearce also looks back on how she felt like she "failed" when her marriage fell apart.

"My faith is a huge part of my life and divorce is really not looked very fond on when you go through something like that. And I was embarrassed. I felt like I failed and I felt like I was failing in front of the whole world. I felt like I failed my family. I felt like I failed the little girls that are looking up to me as a role model," she recalls.

But since then, Pearce has grown stronger. "What I decided is to really do the work around myself, to make sure that actually what I'm doing is showing that you can overcome things in life and you don't have to have things like this, define who you are," she says, proudly adding, "Honestly, I would go through it again. Just reading the messages that I get every day of 'you helped me file for divorce,' 'you helped me to not feel shame around my divorce,' 'you helped me to gain my worth back,' and 'you've helped me to overcome things.' That's what we're put on this earth to do."

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So if 29 captured her heartbreak and grief, what would the themes of next project be, if she were to possibly title it 31?

"It would be lighter. I even think about a year ago, I was a very different person and I had a lot of good in my life then. I had a lot of good in my career. I had a lot of good people around me, but I was so lost inside," she reveals.

"Whatever I record next, I hope that people can hear, 'Oh my goodness when you go through hard things, there's good that's going to come out of it and you're going to understand parts of you that you never even knew were there.' I just think you're going to hear a really happy and content and stronger person," Pearce says.