Melissa Rycroft Finds Her True Love, At Last

07/22/2009 at 09:50 AM EDT

Melissa Rycroft Finds Her True Love, At Last
Melissa Rycroft and Tye Strickland
MAXA/Landov
She didn't end up the winner on The Bachelor or Dancing with the Stars, but Melissa Rycroft is proving she's lucky in love.

Last month, she accepted a marriage proposal from Dallas insurance agent Tye Strickland – and the couple couldn't happier.

"Tye is my true love," Rycroft, 26, tells PEOPLE in its new issue.

Seven months ago, Rycroft was engaged to The Bachelor's Jason Mesnick. Their relationship ended when Mesnick broke up with Rycroft on the "After the Final Rose" special so he could pursue a relationship with the show's runner-up Molly Malaney.

That situation, Rycroft says, did not mark the end of the world, because it led her back to Strickland, whom she'd previously dated for 2½ years.

"No disrespect [to Jason] at all, but that situation doesn't compare to where I am now – engaged and happy. It's a different feeling," says Rycroft.

"The last six months have not been normal," Strickland, 28, acknowledges, speaking for the first time about his relationship with Rycroft. "But we wouldn't change it because what we had to go through has allowed us to be where we are today. It's been a blessing in disguise, and I don't think either of us has ill feelings towards anyone."

Rycroft, who has been doing feature correspondent work for Good Morning America this summer, says she and Strickland have set a wedding date, but "we're keeping it private. It will be a big party. I just want it to be a fun day everyone will remember."

For more on Rycroft’s engagement, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday


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