Jessica Simpson on First Love Nick Lachey: 'We Got Crushed by the Media and by Ourselves'

"I couldn't lie to our fans and I couldn't give somebody hope that we were this perfect golden couple," Jessica Simpson tells PEOPLE

Hello my life. That’s what Jessica Simpson remembers thinking the first time she saw Nick Lachey at a Hollywood Christmas party in 1998.

Simpson writes candidly of their romance, as well as their breakup, in her heartfelt upcoming memoir Open Book, excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.

Their story line — the young singer keeping her virginity for her future husband, their fairy tale wedding in 2002 and the MTV show Newlyweds that chronicled the beginning (and the end) of their marriage — made them reality TV superstars.

“He was my first love,” Simpson tells PEOPLE. She writes, “Nick loved the fact I was so strong in my faith and that I had this wide-eyed innocent approach to life. When he proposed in 2002, I said yes.”

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Mike Rosenthal

But as she recounts in her book, the toll of nonstop work, the constant presence of cameras, and the fact that they grew apart as they grew up, made her realize it wasn’t meant to last.

“We were young and pioneering our way through reality television, always miced and always on,” says Simpson, now 39. “We worked and we were great at it but when it came time to being alone, we weren’t great at it anymore.”

“We really got crushed by the media and by ourselves,” admits Simpson, who asked for a divorce in 2005. “I couldn’t lie to our fans and I couldn’t give somebody hope that we were this perfect golden couple.”

Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson in 2003.

Looking back, she says, “I respect Nick very much. I was really young and my success hadn’t really begun. He knew me as this young innocent 18-year-old that had never been introduced to the world in so many ways. I went straight from my father to him. Nick’s very smart. He was eight years older than me, but he was also young.”

“We meant a lot to each other and we always will,” she says of Lachey, now married to Vanessa Minnillo Lachey, with whom he has three kids. “I want to be very respectful because I married him for a reason and we were together for seven years for a reason. He has a family now and I would never say anything to disrespect that.”

Still, she admits of those years, “I didn’t know myself.”

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Self-knowledge would come with therapy and self-examination, and the clarity she found in 2017 after giving up alcohol, which she had used to mask her pain for years. (She narrates that journey in her audio book, which will also include six new songs.)

Simpson, who runs her namesake collection would find her soul mate in Eric Johnson in 2010, a love story she recounts in Open Book. They married in 2014, and now have three kids: daughter Maxwell, 7, son Ace, 6 and baby Birdie, 10 months.

“We’re connected soul, body, heart and spirit,” she says.

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Jessica Simpson’s Open Book.

For more from Jessica Simpson and an exclusive excerpt from Open Book, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

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