The 33-year-old is talking for the first time about her fairytale romance, "imperfectly perfect" proposal and the intimate wedding she and her husband-to-be are planning for later this year
Karen Waldrup endured a lifetime of heartbreaks and heartaches before she found a man strong enough to heal her heart. And soon, that special man will become her husband — she’s engaged!
“I’ve waited 33 years for this man, and I’m really thankful I found him, because I’ve dated a lot of jokes,” the no-nonsense pistol from New Orleans tells PEOPLE exclusively in a new interview. “My mama always told me to wait for love. The benefit of getting married when you are older is that you know who you are and what’s important to you and you aren’t about to settle for anything less than you deserve. He’s my knight in shining armor.”
That knight in shining armor is 28-year-old Cody Henson, a craftsman, avid dog lover and fantasy football aficionado hailing from Lewisburg, Tennessee.
For Waldrup, he is all she has ever wanted.
“We just have always fit together,” she says. “There was never a time we weren’t just being ourselves in this relationship. He loves me just the way I am.”
The two met on Valentine’s Day 2018, around the same time that Waldrup found herself in one of the most precarious times of her life. Not only had she caught her longtime boyfriend cheating just a few months before, but she was also being stalked by a so-called fan.
“He rescued me from the chaos,” Waldrup says of Henson. “At that time, it wasn’t just about the romance he brought into my life, but it was also about the safety. He made me feel safe when I was with him. And he never doubted me. He believed in me through all the hard times.”
Soon after they began dating, the two seemed to instinctively know that they had something special. Heck, they even started noticing engagement rings.
“We had gone into an antique store probably two months after we started dating, and I just fell in love with the look of an old 1920s, art deco, Edwardian-era type of ring,” says Waldrup, who moved to Nashville in 2008.
And it was a very similar ring that Henson would later purchase in Franklin, Tennessee and carefully hide in his pocket during a holiday excursion on Dec. 27, while the couple were spending the holidays with family in San Antonio, Texas.
Unbeknownst to her, Henson had planned to take Waldrup to the River Walk downtown to pop the question, but a number of hurdles stood in the way of his romantic plan — everything from screaming kids to spilled popcorn to crowded restaurants.
“It was actually hilarious,” recalls Waldrup, who collaborated last year with William Michael Morgan on her revealing single “Me Again.” “My makeup was a mess because of the rain and the laughing but we were just as in love as we have ever been, despite the chaos.”
As the couple walked away from yet another failed engagement attempt at the famed Towers of the Americas, Waldrup and Henson found a quiet moment and a quiet space, and Henson finally got down on one knee.
“He stayed down there for a few minutes really taking his time telling me how he loved me since our first date at The Southern in Nashville and how he will love me until my last breath,” Waldrup recalls. “I was really emotional because it was so real. It was so imperfectly perfect.”
And yes, it served as another important lesson for the couple.
“It’s all about getting through the chaos of life together,” says Waldrup, noting that an “angel” who happened to witness the engagement actually ended up taking a few pictures of the special moment. “It’s all about being flexible through it all and to laugh and to not get mad.”
Currently planning a “small, boutique-style” wedding in September, Waldrup is looking forward to hosting a rather low key event.
“I do a huge production every single weekend,” laughs Waldrup, referring to her touring duties as an aspiring country artist. “The idea of doing that the day of my wedding just isn’t very intriguing to me. I just want us to be surrounded by the people we love the most.”
And yes, Waldrup says she’s learned from her prior mistakes, and plans not to share everything when it comes to her personal life going forward.
“I want my career to continue to grow, but I’m going to protect this personal part of my life a bit,” she says. “I’m a little protective of Cody. I’m going to protect our life and our marriage and our personal space.”