For as far back as she can remember, Jennifer Lopez had a tough time being solo.
“One of my biggest fears growing up was being alone,” the Hustlers star tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover, where she and three other stars are celebrated as PEOPLE’s People of the Year.
“I just didn’t like being alone… I grew up sleeping with my sisters in a bed.”
The pattern continued well into her adult life and looking back, Lopez realizes her aversion likely led to some unhealthy personal choices.
“I did get into relationships, sometimes the wrong ones for the wrong reasons because I didn’t like being alone,” says Lopez, who was married three times, to Marc Anthony, with whom she has 11-year-old twins Emme and Max, as well as, briefly, to Ojani Noa and actor-choreographer Cris Judd.
“Now that (fear) is gone and I’m okay on my own. That was a big journey for me.”
Ironically, it wasn’t until Lopez, 50, made peace with herself — thanks to intense self-exploration, some therapy and time spent with her kids — that she emerged empowered and ultimately open to love with Alex Rodriguez, 44.
“When I really figured out you don’t need anybody to complete you and you can be happy on your own, the shift happened (and) all of sudden I wasn’t alone. You do actually find that person.”
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Which is not to say Lopez, or Rodriguez, are done with their personal growth, even as the multifaceted star’s career hits new heights. “We continue to do the work, he continues to work on himself, I continue to work on myself and we work together,” she says.
“You fall in love when you’re younger, make impulsive decisions — and I have certainly been guilty of that and not thinking the whole thing through — but this is me thinking it through. We’re taking our time (and) being thoughtful.”