The TLC singer says ending her years-long on-and-off relationship with the R&B star helped prepare her for love and stability with Matthew Lawrence
"I have never experienced anything like this," she tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, opening up about her happy life now with boyfriend Matthew Lawrence, 43, ahead of the premiere of Lifetime's new documentary TLC Forever.
It is the first high-profile relationship the singer, 52, has had since famously dating Usher from 2001-2004. "We definitely had some chemistry," she says, when asked about her time with the R&B star. "But working chemistry does not mean it works in your personal life. If we were working, it was great. But outside of that, we're so different."
Noting how fans rooted for them as a couple, she says, "It looked great, but in real life ... he knew he had to be a certain way with me and he couldn't."
While she denies rumors that his hit breakup album Confessions is about her ("I was with him at the studio that whole time"), the couple still wasn't meant to be, she says due to differing values and trust issues. Still, they remained off and on for years, reconnecting when they weren't in other relationships. "I love hard," says Chilli. "I was like, 'God, why can't I get over this?’ He couldn't either."
Leaning on her Christian faith, she eventually cut off contact for good in 2019 "to focus on myself," she says. "I even stopped dating. Because before that I thought if I met the right guy during that time that I wasn't over [Usher] it wouldn't work. I would never want to straddle the fence."
When it comes to her ex, "I have no hard feelings," she tells PEOPLE. It all helped prepare her for Lawrence, the love of her life. "He wants to be the best guy he can be and who God wants him to be," she says. "God-willing one day we'll get married."
For more on Chilli's TLC journey and life now, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
TLC Forever airs June 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.
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