Loni Love will host this year's Essence Festival July 4-7 in New Orleans and she's excited to bring new boyfriend James Welsh along for the ride.

Loni Love is having an awesome 2019.

She was recently nominated for a daytime Emmy, thanks to co-hosting hit talk show The Real (she won her first in 2018), and she was recently tapped to host the 25th Annual Essence Festival, marking the first time the star-studded fest has had a female host. All of that is amazing, but the comedian says the best part of the year has been boyfriend James Welsh.

“He’s a really nice guy,” says Love, opening up to PEOPLE in this week’s issue about her new romance. The pair first met on a dating app last August. “He hit me and I was like ‘Wow, he has really kind looking eyes’.”

Loni Love
Credit: Alex R. Hill II

As for what she was looking for in a man, Love says that over the years she’s shifted her criteria. “The older I get the simpler I’m getting,” says Love, 47, who was married once before. “When I was looking for somebody I was just looking for the compatibility part. The thing I think that I was missing in my life was that I was always conforming to what the man wanted instead of saying this is what I want to do.”

As for her preferences on race or background, “The people I’ve always dated have been black or hispanic,” but she says this time around, “I left it open. I was getting all types of men. The mindset that I had was let me find out who the person is before I go judging and saying ‘Oh, I can’t date you because of this or that.’”

And it worked out! Welsh, an actor and small business owner, was just what she needed. “Everybody is so surprised and I’m surprised myself. But it really doesn’t matter. I’m the first African American woman he’s dated and he said he just didn’t think about it. It’s not a big deal. We get along, we like each other, we understand each other.”

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Still, she says some fans have had interesting questions. “They’re like ‘Wow, have you been talking to Tamera?’” she says referring to co-host Tamera Mowry-Housley, who’s married to journalist Adam Housley. “I’m like no, I don’t talk to Tamera about this. I think every relationship is different and unique, there’s no white man’s guide for a black woman, it’s not like that.”

Loni Love personal images with JamesBaha Mar in The Bahamas bringing in 2019
Credit: Alex R. Hill II

Adds Love, “I just look at James as a person.” And fans can’t get enough of him. “There’s just this love for James, people are happy for us.”

Welsh will join his girlfriend as she heads down to New Orleans for Essence Festival July 4 through 7. That’s another one of his qualities: “He’s a great travel buddy!”