Elle King/instagram Elle King & Dan Tooker
Elle King's still got a "Little Bit of Lovin'" left in her.
The rocker is opening up about her happy engagement — and how the pandemic brought her and her fiancé, Dan Tooker, closer together.
"My partner sheltered in place with me. The fact that we didn't kill each other was like, 'I think this is love.' It's not that every single day was easy or that we didn't go through things, but I feel like when you go through things, it can either break you or make you stronger. It definitely made us stronger and built a lot of trust," King, 31, told PEOPLE last week ahead of her Rolling Stone Rooftop Sessions livestream. "You figure things out through harder times than you do if it's an easy ride. It was a true testament of love."
The "Ex's & Oh's" singer began dating Tooker, a Boston tattoo artist, in 2019. On October 9, the pair revealed they had both proposed to one another in New Mexico on their one-year anniversary. King says she knew she had a future with Tooker "the second that we locked eyes" — but didn't rush the relationship.
"For the first time in my life I took my time, until quarantine happened and I was like, 'We need to be in the same place because I feel like I'm going to go crazy. I'm really scared,'" she recalls. "Sometimes I'm right, sometimes I'm wrong, sometimes I'm wrong even when I'm right. I really love him. He's a wonderful person and this craziness of this year actually brought us closer."
King has had her share of public heartbreaks. She secretly married Andrew Ferguson in February 2016, just weeks after they first met; in 2018, King opened up to PEOPLE about their "destructive marriage" and the PTSD she faced in its aftermath. Then in July 2019, King announced another engagement to her then-boyfriend, Jim. Despite the rollercoaster romances, the Grammy-nominated singer never gave up on love.
"You got to give me some credit!" she says. "At least I'm trying; at least I keep my heart open to the possibilities of love."
This relationship is different, she says, because of all the time she was able to spend with Tooker during the pandemic.
"From my marriage to any of my relationships, they've always been long distance because even if I lived with a person, I was always gone," King says.
Although she and Tooker are back to long-distance now, she's confident in the solid foundation they've built.
"I'm very much in love, I'm very happy, and we're doing the best that we can," she says. "We're still long-distance, but we spend as much time together as we can. It's great. When you know, it takes pressure off of, 'We need to get married tomorrow, we need to fully live together, blah, blah, blah, we need to be in the same place.' I know that I love him, I know that I'm going to spend the rest of my life with him — it'll just work out. [That's] definitely a new frame of mind for me."
Indeed, 2020 has been full of changes for King, who relocated to Santa Fe shortly after the pandemic hit the U.S.
"I'm definitely not a gardener. I tried it, I failed at it. It's okay, moved on. I killed everything in my backyard. I was like, 'Well, I should probably sell this house and move to a desert,'" she says. "I moved! I thought, 'If I'm going to be stuck in a place, I want to be stuck in a place where I can breathe and be happy and enjoy where I'm at for this.' This year seems like it's been so much, but 10 years, 50 years, 100 years down the road, it'll just be a small blip of time. I really wanted to find a way to find joy through it, like anything in life."
King quickly settled into her new life in New Mexico.
"I felt super crowded and in California and I couldn't be myself, so I moved to New Mexico and literally within four days I had two donkeys and two goats. Two weeks later I started fostering puppies," she says. "I just wanted to have space, I wanted to be surrounded by animals, and I felt like I needed to move to a place where I felt more creative energy, as hippy as that sounds."
And King has certainly stayed creative in quarantine. Over the summer, she released her In Isolation EP. And she is preparing her third album, the follow-up to 2018's acclaimed Shake the Spirit.
"The collection of songs that I've been working on for over a year, before the world shut down and everything — I still tried to work on it through it. No two songs are the same; keeping it Elle King-style," she says. "Doesn't every artist or creative feel like their work that they're currently doing or sitting on is the best work of their life? I'm really excited to put this new batch of songs out because I feel like everything that I've been through in the last few years, been a lot, a lot of ups and downs... I feel like I've found my footing and I found my grounding a little bit, so I could finally really put a lot of my emotions and my feelings and my growth and my fear into these songs."
Adds King: "The most important thing that people will be seeking and searching for coming out of this [pandemic] is connection and relate-ability and feeling like you're not alone, because this is a very isolating and very scary, scary time. I'm excited to go back to my roots of putting out music that is about connection, is about togetherness. I feel like it's my light at the end of the tunnel."