Timothy Busfield on His Marriage to 'Little House on the Prairie' 's Melissa Gilbert: 'She Was the One'

The couple married in a small ceremony in Santa Barbara in April 2013

Melissa Gilbert & husband Timothy Busfield photographed at home in Highland Park NY , by George Holz ; April 21 2022 Hair & Makeup : Michelle Coursey Stylist: Jennifer Greene Shot #1 (Garden) MG: Overalls by DL1962 Kimono by Johnny Was T-shirt by James Perse Boots, model’s own TB: Plaid shirt by Eleventy Milano T-shirt by James Perse Jeans and boots, model’s own
Melissa Gilbert and her husband Timothy Busfield. Photo: George Holz

When Timothy Busfield met Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert for the first time, he wasn't looking for romance.

The actor, whose credits include Thirtysomething and West Wing, was coming off of his second divorce in 2012 when he walked into an empty bar and spotted Gilbert, who was waiting to meet a friend.

"That was my drill, at eight o'clock, there was a bar right across from the Universal Studios that would open at eight and nobody would ever be in there. And then at 10 o'clock it would turn into a club," Busfield tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I would have the bar to myself for the first 45 minutes and I'd watch some sports and have a slice."

Busfield continues, "I remember so clearly grabbing pizza and then looking in the door to make sure there wasn't a lot going on. There was one person sitting at the bar and she had a fedora on, and I couldn't tell who it was, but I knew it was problematic. And it'd been about eight months I hadn't been on a date and I was so happy and I was spooning with my pillow and really enjoying going to bed, not involved in a relationship."

Melissa Gilbert, Timothy Busfield and family. -June 12 2017 Tim, Daisy Busfield-Ackerman, Greg Ackerman, Sam Busfield, Willy Busfield, Dakota Brinkman, Marissa Higgins-Brinkman, Sam Boxleitner, Andrea Steele-Boxleitner, Lulu Boxleither
Melissa Gilbert/Instagram

But that all changed after striking up conversation with Gilbert, whose new book, Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Discovered, is out May 10.

After making introductions, they wound up talking all night. When Gilbert's friends showed up, she didn't even notice. "I knew she was the one," recalls Busfield. "It felt so real."

Like Busfield, Gilbert was also coming off of two divorces. She had been married to Bo Brinkman from 1988-1994 and Bruce Boxleitner from 1995-2011.

The pair were also both parents — Busfield had three children, Samuel, Daisy and Wilson, while Gilbert was the mother of two adult sons, Dakota, 33, and Michael, 26.

In April 2013, the couple married in a small ceremony in Santa Barbara, California. "Across the board we were just equals in everything," Busfield says of their union.

Gilbert adds: "One of the greatest things Tim did was tell me [was], 'If you don't want to, you don't have to.' And that's a really big deal for a kid actor, because nobody ever told me that. It was [told], 'I don't care if you don't want to, you've got to.'"

Today, the couple lives a quiet life in New York at their rustic, 14-acre Catskill Mountain cottage. "This is what I've always wanted," says Gilbert.

For more on Melissa Gilbert, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

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