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"Being with someone so solid has allowed me to grow," says Hilarie Burton of her relationship with husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan

By Aili Nahas
April 29, 2020 11:00 AM
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It’s been over 10 years since Hilarie Burton and Jeffrey Dean Morgan began dating, but the former One Tree Hill actress can still recall in perfect detail the night she met her future husband.

“When he came along, he was so sure of himself,” Burton, who was introduced to The Walking Dead star Morgan at an Irish pub in Los Angeles by her former costar Danneel Ackles and her husband, actor Jensen Ackles, tells PEOPLE. “I was not a girl anyone pursued. I’ve always been alpha. And Jeffrey was like, ‘You’re going to be my girlfriend.’ ”

Continues Burton: “It was so nice to be pursued. He’s a cute dude! And I liked that he knew exactly who he was. His confidence was intoxicating.”

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton
| Credit: Courtesy The Morgans/AMC
  • For more from Hilarie Burton, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

In her new memoir, The Rural Dairies — available May 5 — Burton opens up about Morgan, whom she wed in 2019, and the life they’ve built on a 100-acre farm in upstate New York, with kids Gus, 10, and George, 2.

Burton had been dating Morgan just a few months when she became pregnant with Gus; soon after his birth, the new family decamped to the quiet Hudson Valley, where they bought a fixer upper cabin before later upgrading to the farm.

“The ease in which Jeffrey and I were able to live together was a surprise,” says Burton, 37. “I think it was really shocking to my family members and friends, because I was always the girl who was very cautious. I’d thought my entire life out, and [moving] was crazy, like, ‘Let’s do it! Let’s run away!’ But it worked out!”

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The Rural Diaries

And Burton, who with 54-year-old Morgan hosts Friday Night In with the Morgans on AMC, says that her relationship has allowed for her to be more authentic to her own self.

“Jeffrey is the same guy now that he was when I met him,” says the actress. “He knew 100 percent who he was and that was a delight. Because I could be the one who could experiment. Being with someone so solid allowed me to grow.”

And life on the farm, where the couple raise chickens, ducks, donkeys, cows, alpaca and an emu, has changed Burton too.

“Moving here was a let go,” she says. “There is a very different view of what is attractive. An attractive woman is one who is hard-working, who can handle animals and lift up bags of dirt, not one with highlights or abs or nails. I’ve never felt more valued.”

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hilarie Burton with daughter George and son Augustus
| Credit: Jeffrey Dean Morgan/Instagram

Burton and Morgan, who continue to travel back and forth when work requires it, are both responsible for chores on the farm. “We divide and conquer,” says Burton. “Jeff likes going out to feed the animals in the afternoon and scratch their heads. There’s a lot going on. And it’s good work. We feel good at the end of the day.”

Given their history, Burton giggles at the notion that she is — technically — still a newlywed, since she and Morgan wed just last October.

“We’ve lived as husband and wife forever,” she says. “But we like being married.”

Though Burton admits, the idea of a wedding wasn’t always at the front of her mind.

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Hilarie Burton
| Credit: Bryan Firestone

“I had reached a point where I was perfectly fine keeping on keeping on,” she says. “But Jeffrey was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great [to get married]? Gus would be my best and George will be there.’ That picture he painted was really attractive to me. Our wedding was a big thank you to all the people who have supported us.”

Now, Burton says her favorite moments on the farm are nightly family walks where she can revel in the life she’s built.

“I have pinch me moments every day,” she says. “My son was a gift, my daughter was a surprise and Jeffrey was a whirlwind. Watching all of them engage feels surreal. I have so much gratitude.”

The Rural Diaries is available everywhere on May 5.