For months Nikki Bella was dealing with an internal wrestling match. She had finally made the incredibly tough, incredibly painful decision to call off her planned fairytale vows to John Cena, accepting that he wasn’t going to change his mind about having kids in the future only to have him reveal he was ready, willing and able to be a dad. And while that admission should have left her eagerly scrambling to pick up where she left off in putting together their May nuptials, she realized she still felt torn. The crux of the issue, she determined, is that she’d spent so long worrying about what John did or didn’t want that she’d kind of forgotten to check in with herself. “I think when you sacrifice for so long and it’s like you can give so much and then you kind of get tired of giving,” she opined during an appearance on Today, “and then someone wants to give it back and you just start to feel exhausted.”
So she ripped off the Band-Aid for good, feeling crushed, but at peace with her final decision. “It just sucks,” she lamented to twin sister Brie Bella on Total Bellas’ season three finale this July. “I wish it could be different and I think that’s why I’ve had almost six years of working on us and fighting and just talking a lot. I just feel like I’ve hit the point that I’m just so exhausted and done.” Done with both her engagement and with the whole romance thing in general, as it turned out. Single for the first time in six years, she wasn’t pushing herself to dive back into the deep end of the dating pool. “It feels like, you know, when you get married and the next day people are like, ‘When are you having kids?’ and it’s like, ‘I just got married,'” she explained to People in October of her hesitance. “I feel like it’s the same thing. When you become single, it’s like, ‘Oh, are you dating?!’ Honestly, I’m so not interested. I’m just not ready yet.”
In other words, she wasn’t about to accept Peter Kraus’ rose. She agreed to be set up with the Bachelorette’s most beloved runner-up, or at least acquiesced to a blind date with someone of Brie’s choosing. And she even seemed to reciprocate the 33-year-old’s lean-in-for-a-kiss move in the glimpse of their date fans were afforded in E!’s sneak peek of Total Bellas’ upcoming fourth season (premiering Sunday, Jan. 13), exclaiming beforehand, “I haven’t kissed another guy in nine years.” But they were a long way from picking out Neil Lane diamonds together. “I did set her up on a blind date,” Brie told People, before hinting that her sister didn’t exactly come home bubbling over with excitement. “You’ll see it on Total Bellas, but I got in a lot of trouble.” It’s not that the WWE Superstar was necessarily turned off by the personal trainer who initially transfixed Rachel Lindsay and is so appealing eager Bachelor fans sweat through 50 minutes of burpees and squats at his bootcamps just to get a glimpse at his six-pack abs. She just wasn’t in the headspace for digital flirtations and awkward getting-to-know-you dinners. Asked at Z100’s Jingle Ball this December about her new single life, she admitted to E! News, “Oh, it’s you know, it’s not going well, I guess. But I guess I’m not really looking.”
Turns out there was no need—because sometimes the right relationship finds you and pulls you back out onto the dance floor. A now, a source reveals to E! News, the 35-year-old is taking romance with Artem Chigvintsev for a spin. She and the Russian-bred ballroom pro, 36, were first partnered up on Dancing With the Star’s 25th season in 2017 and though they didn’t win the coveted mirror ball trophy, they may have found a better prize. Having remained in touch post-elimination, the pair began hanging out following Bella’s summer split—in the Total Bellas trailer she confesses to him that she’s “single” while giving him the definitively flirty hair flip—and are now casually dating. “They’ve been spending time together for a long time, but it’s nothing serious right now,” an insider told People. “They have a strong attraction to each other, but they’re just having fun. They’re both extremely busy with their own careers, so they spend time together when they can.”Or, as the Belle Radici winemaker put it to E! News, “I’m enjoying being single.”
She’s certainly earned a bit of fun. For most people, going through a break-up ranks somewhere below getting a root canal and being audited by the IRS on list of things that are super desirable. Not only did Bella endure a very public split less than a month before her wedding, but then she got to experience it on a seemingly endless loop as she geared up to promote her reality show’s third season, which focused largely on the painful unraveling of her relationship. “It’s going to be definitely difficult to relive,” she admitted to E! News at the 2018 NBCUniversal Upfront May 14. “I’ve already seen some of the episodes and it’s crazy because I just kind of see myself falling apart. And I think when you look at yourself as such a strong woman, you think, like, ‘I don’t have these down days.’ Or, ‘There’s no way I could have a breakdown.’ And, yes, you can. And that’s just, that’s life. And so I’m even learning from myself as I’m watching myself.”
Inward reflection is great and all. But having to rationalize to everyone who asked (and that number wasn’t exactly small) why she decided to end things with the wrestler turned actor after he poured his heart out on Today, well, that was downright agonizing. (Imagine for a second that all of your friends took your ex’s side in a split and harassed you about your decision at every turn.)Worse yet, were the fans that assumed the issues were simply a storyline dreamt up by producers. “When everyone was saying what I was going through was fake for ratings and all that, and when you’re really going through it, it’s like, you’re just, in my heartache you’re literally just knifing it and just churning it,” she lamented in an October interview with Cosmopolitan. So you could understand why, at that point, she was just over it. Done revisiting those painful emotions, done offering up an explanation for why she refused to commit to forever when she had doubts about next year and, most of all, done even uttering the name John Cena.
“We both are at the point that we just don’t want to be talked about at all together anymore,” she explained. “We don’t want our breakup to define us or interfere with our work. And that was happening for a while.” And not that the Arizona native ever needed a man to make her feel whole, but over the years she’s accrued many more interesting descriptors than fiancée. Her WWE superstar status has long since transcended the ring with nearly a million viewers tuning in to see her and Brie on both Bellas, and the original WWE reality hit, Total Divas. Together, they also have their wine brand, a line of women’s empowerment-focused clothing called Birdiebee and a YouTube channel with close to two million devoted subscribers.”I don’t want my relationship to define who I am, as a woman,” she stressed. “And to take away all the hard work that I’ve ever done in my career.” It’s a problem her ex hasn’t really been forced to face as he continues to churn out films and notch appearances in the ring.
“I think for a man, it’s different,” she reasoned. “I feel like, if anything, the woman gets blamed for what happens, for taking away from what they do. But I get all my work taken away because of that. I don’t know, I feel like sometimes there’s a double standard and I really have felt that. And it’s been really, really hard.” But if others are going to strip her down, she’s going to put in even more effort to build herself back up. Now working with a life coach, she’s honing in on self-love, a practice, “I lost for so many years,” she admitted. “That was all my fault. I’m the one who forgot about me. I have realized now to truly have a happy life, you have to give yourself so much love first and work on you in any way you can.” Thriving in one of the most successful stages of her career to date, “I just feel like I’m at that age where I’m discovering who I really am and what I want out of life and just, like, independence,” she recently told ET. “It is scary and you do have these moments of like, ‘What am I doing?’—and fear. I just kind of am liking the challenge.”
Because it’s not like she’s sitting home alone at night, lamenting over lost love. “I’m really enjoying being an entrepreneur [and] I’m very excited for my comeback at WWE,” she said of her return after a three-year hiatus prompted by a terrifying neck injury. “I just have this goal in my head of what I want to conquer as an independent woman and I’m going to get there.” And once she truly figures herself out, she knows she’ll be an amazing mate to the right guy. “You’re better in a relationship when you fully have that self-love and love yourself and know who you are because then you’re just so confident in that relationship.” Whether Chigvintsev is that lucky guy remains to be seen, but Bella isn’t the type to depend on a man to feel fulfilled. “She is focused on moving forward with her life,” an insider tells E! News. “Nikki is really good, actually. She’s in a good headspace and is just…happy.”
Total Bellas returns Sunday, January 13 at 9 p.m., only on E!
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