Michelle Williams and Chad Johnson End Engagement: Inside Their Rocky Relationship
The couple — who, according to a since-deleted Instagram Story from Williams on Friday, have split — spoke to PEOPLE and other outlets numerous times throughout their relationship, outlining their love for one another and the bumps they hit along the way.
Below, a timeline of their highs and lows, in their own words:
FED UP WITH LOVE
Williams, 38, and Johnson, 41, first met in March 2017 at an Arizona spiritual retreat run by Johnson, a life coach who has also worked as a chaplain for pro sports teams including the Pittsburgh Steelers and L.A. Dodgers.
“I was in a horrible, dark place,” Williams previously told PEOPLE. “I just needed to go somewhere where I could get a message of hope and restoration, rejuvenation — get connected to God.”
Johnson could relate. “When we met, both of us were in very similar places on a personal level,” he explained, adding he had all but given up on dating. “Michelle was coming off the heels of a really bad relationship, and I was just in a place of despair as well.”
THEIR EARLY DAYS
Though Williams and Johnson hit it off immediately, both remained focused on the purpose of the Elevate International retreat. “I mean, he was cute,” the singer admitted, “but I did not go to flirt with the pastor!” When they parted ways, they kept in touch, and a friend of Johnson encouraged him to pursue Williams.
“I tried to roll in with some mac daddy game — and I tried to flirt a little bit and said something like, ‘How about you and I connect sometime?’ And right away, she texted right back with one word and six question marks behind it: ‘Connect??????’” Johnson recalled to PEOPLE. “I thought she had dissed me. So I was embarrassed, and I didn’t reach back out to her because I thought I’d ruined the friendship.”
That text exchange was just the beginning of their romance. About a week later, Johnson was on vacation with his 15- and 16-year-old nephews, whom he’s helped raise, and Williams slid into his DMs, responding to Johnson’s Instagram Story.
“The rest is history,” Johnson said, telling PEOPLE their conversations soon moved from social media to text messages and frequent late-night FaceTime calls. “We spent almost three months without even seeing each other, just building a strong foundation on the phone and through FaceTime; it was really built on friendship and communication.”
MAKING IT OFFICIAL (AND THEIR FIRST KISS)
In July — while on their first actual date at a wedding in the Dominican Republic — the pair shared their first kiss and took their relationship to the next level. “I told her, ‘I’ve been looking. I don’t want to look anymore. I’m done. My search is over,’” Johnson remembered of the moment they decided to date officially.
Early on, Williams knew what she had with Johnson was special, even if she didn’t start to introduce her new beau to friends (like former Destiny’s Child members Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland) until July.
“I didn’t even tell any people I was talking to Chad. I wanted to treat this relationship differently because obviously all my past relationships have failed. I didn’t want to talk about another relationship that possibly wasn’t gonna go anywhere,” she said.
Much of their courtship happened long distance, as Johnson was traveling with the Steelers for work. But both felt they had found a potential life partner.
“What kept drawing me and drawing me at first was I felt like I could be myself,” said Williams, noting that Johnson even called her by her birth name. “My first name is Tenitra; my middle name is Michelle. I felt like I could be Tenitra: just ratchet, I didn’t have to have on any makeup, if I had to have on my hair bonnet — he just made me feel very safe in being myself.”
BATTLING THE BEYHIVE
As the pair took their romance public, fans weighed in on their relationship. Johnson previously said the criticism kept him in check.
“People are very protective of her and her world,” Johnson confessed to PEOPLE. “All the Michelle fans, the Destiny’s Child fans, the Beyhive — all those folks are constantly like, ‘You better take care of our girl! If you hurt her, we’re coming for you.'”
He got a taste of that while watching Destiny’s Child reunite at Coachella in April, and posting about it later online.
“I got a comment because I’ve been really rejoicing with her over the Coachella performance, so I let the world know on my social stream,” he said. “Somebody was like, ‘You act like you were up there performing.’ And I’m like, you know what, here’s the thing: I love building her up. I think some men would be insecure of that. But when she wins, I win; we win together.”
THE PERFECT PROPOSAL
Johnson knew he wanted to propose to Williams, and planned an elaborate ploy to pop the question.
In February, he secretly traveled to her native Rockford, Illinois, to ask for her family’s blessing, videotaping the entire trip. Then on March 21 — exactly one year after Johnson flirted with Williams and he accused her of dissing him — Johnson brought Williams back to the Pebble Beach, California, hotel where he began their texting banter to ask for her hand in marriage.
“We were replaying the whole text message, recreating the moment,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Hey, what about if you and me connected?’ She sent me back a text saying, ‘I’ll check my availability.’ And I signaled over to the waiter, and she brought out the iPad and played the video of me being on the proposal tour.”
RELATED VIDEO: Michelle Williams Was Totally ‘Shocked’ When Her Fiancé Proposed: ‘I Was Weeping and Wailing’
Williams “started weeping and wailing” watching the video of Johnson with her family, but pulled it together in the end. “Something in my head said, ‘Pull yourself together! He’s about to propose! Stop all this crying!'” she joked.
Sure enough, Johnson got down on one knee. “I was just losing it!” Williams said.
A RING 11 YEARS IN THE MAKING
PEOPLE broke the news of Williams and Johnson’s engagement exclusively in April. That report also included the first look at the 5-carat engagement ring Johnson had designed for Williams from L.A. jeweler Denis Mahgerefteh.
The sparkler looked “almost identical” to a ring Williams had seen and loved in February, though had never showed Johnson. “It’s kind of like God was showing me, this is what’s to come,” Williams said. “It was really, really crazy.”
It was also really expensive. Johnson dropped some “Bills, Bill Bills” on Williams’ rock, with money he had been saving every month for the past 11 years.
“I opened up a ring account, and for 11 years, I put $150 into a ring account,” Johnson said, explaining that he was inspired to do so after realizing his personal life was lacking the morning after his 30th birthday. “Every month I’d put money into that account; I would just say, ‘My wife’s coming; this is for my wife.’ I did that for 11 years.”
PLANNING FOR THE WEDDING
In April, Williams and Johnson were already talking about their wedding, explaining that they planned to get married in the summer.
“We do wanna get married very, very soon,” Williams said, adding that she had already chosen a dress. “We’ve been moving very quickly and planning. Why wait? I want to get married now, but he wants a wedding!”
Johnson was encouraging the two pick a date. “She was like, ‘Can we just revel in the moment, relish the feeling? ‘And I’m like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go!’ It’s gonna be … think James Bond-meets-Midsummer Night’s Dream — with a little hood in it [laughs]. It’s gonna be very traditional. We’re doing black-tie. We want it to be small and intimate and very private.”
Despite her happiness, Williams admitted to PEOPLE in October that as she planned her summer wedding, she fell into a deep depression that impacted all aspects of her life — including her new engagement.
Unbeknownst to fans, the singer secretly broke off her engagement just weeks after Johnson popped the question.
It turns out, while Johnson’s proposal was a “dream” come true for Williams, the engagement uncovered buried feelings of insecurity. The entertainer didn’t see “healthy conflict resolution” growing up, and she also had her heart broken by exes who never made her feel secure, so she ran.
“There was a period of time where we did not know if we were going to make it down the aisle,” Williams said.
“I’m assuming a lot of relationships go through a period of time where one or more people get overwhelmed,” she added. “You don’t even know what it’s like to have real love because I’ve had to fight so much in past relationships: fight to have a place, fight for you to see me, fight for you to love me, fight for you to be faithful. In this relationship I didn’t have to do that, but I was so ready to fight.”
She tried to push Johnson away, but the two got back together again. “She said it really unearthed stuff in both of us. It made us run into a wall,” Johnson said. “It had taken me a long time to get to this place of vulnerability and love and commitment. I picked up everything to move to L.A. with her and not long after she pulled the plug.”
A DEPRESSION HOSPITALIZATION
As they quietly worked on their relationship for the next three months, Williams again broke up with Johnson at the end of July — just hours before she drove herself to an L.A. area hospital.
Days later, she checked into a treatment facility.
“I thought I was over depression. I thought, ‘I’m good! I’ve got love, I’m working out,’” she said. “But I was so angry. The rage built up in me. I did not attempt suicide, but I was questioning [life].”
Williams first battled depression as a teen, and the mental illness was exacerbated during the height of her fame with Destiny’s Child. When the familiar feelings of hopelessness began settling back in this past spring, the star brushed her demons under the rug to focus on her Coachella performance.
“The entire year we were rehearsing every day for hours,” she said of their grueling schedule. “I was burying it, and before you knew it, I was looking up out of the pit like, ‘Oh my God.'”
After their highly anticipated performance at the annual music festival, Williams hit her breaking point. “I’d been there before in that darkness,” she said. “I was like ‘No, you better go [to the hospital].’ By the time I got there, I was stable.”
Though she pushed Johnson to leave, he refused and tried to be as supportive as possible as she sought further treatment at a nearby facility. “I would’ve understood [if he left],” said Williams. “He’s been praying for a wife. He didn’t pray for a depressed wife.”
“Some of the things said and done were very hurtful,” Johnson said. “But I was like, ‘I don’t even want to talk about what happened. Get well and we can work on us later.'”
Johnson supported Williams through her time in the hospital and treatment, and they underwent intense individual and premarital counseling. Their unscripted reality series Chad Loves Michelle, which premiered on the Oprah Winfrey Network in early November, offered fans an intimate look into their relationship as they managed those hurtles.
Ultimately, Williams was committed to Johnson and said she didn’t want to see anyone else with him.
“I [told myself] ‘You better get yourself together because do you not know this is what you prayed for? God gave this to you,'” Williams confessed to PEOPLE. “What if he really leaves and this time next year I see him with somebody else? I’ll be like that Beyoncé song ‘Ring the Alarm!’ I’ll be damned if I see another chick on his arm.”
BACK TOGETHER — AND TALKING ABOUT KIDS
The two were waiting until marriage to consummate their relationship, and hoped to have a family sooner rather than later. “I can’t wait for you to be pregnant with babies — a big ol’ basketball in there!” Johnson gushed to Williams in October.
She was on board. “I’m absolutely thankful for Chad,” she said. “I’m so grateful and thankful for him. It’s not about marrying him, it’s to do life with him. I feel like I found someone to do life with.”
But therapy would always continue. “People fall off the fitness wagon, people fall of the wellness wagon, but I can’t fall off the [therapy] wagon,” she said. “I have to get healed to live this happy life.”
SAYING GOODBYE (AGAIN)
Williams revealed that her engagement to Johnson was off in an Instagram Story on Friday, the same day she dropped her latest single, “Fearless.”
“I still remain fearless,” she wrote in simple white text on a black background. “I guess I still remain single! Things didn’t work out. The healing that needs to take place is a must! I don’t wanna destroy another relationship. Blessings to him, his family and ministry. #FEARLESS”
Reps for Williams didn’t immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment. Williams later deleted the post.
NOT GIVING UP ON LOVE
Despite it all, Williams previously told PEOPLE she always remained optimistic about love.
“Don’t lose hope in love,” she said. “I do think you should not focus so much that if you’re not in love that you get depressed about it. I was in a place where I was like, I’m just going to focus on my career and my family and just keep it moving. I started taking myself out; I started traveling by myself, to the point where I loved being by myself.”
“Just don’t lose hope,” she stressed. “But definitely be doing what you can do to make yourself a better person for the person that possibly is on the way for the way for you.”