"I was in love with her from the start," Timberlake tells GQ of his onetime Mickey Mouse Club costar. "I was infatuated with her from the moment I saw her."
Timberlake, 25, calls his romance with Spears "a distant thing," but he hasn't forgotten the sting of their breakup, which happened when he was 21.
"When we initially parted ways I felt like she had a couple of opportunities to just sort of stick up for me, and she didn't," he tells the magazine. "Which is fine. But at that time, you know, I fought back."
Timberlake penned a hit song, Cry Me a River, in which he lashed out at Spears. "I used my mind," he says. "I came up with a song."
Despite rumors that Timberlake once advised Spears to dump husband Kevin Federline, he says he and his ex no longer speak. But he acknowledges that Spears, who recently described herself as "an emotional wreck," has had some tough times recently. "I wish her well, and I want to see her win," he says. "I don't think you can ever count somebody like her out. Because she may appear one way, but she's very clever."
Meanwhile, Timberlake is at a professional and personal highpoint. His sophomore solo album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, comes out Sept. 12, and he's been dating Cameron Diaz for three years.
He calls his low-profile relationship with Diaz, 33, "adult" – compared to the time he spent with Spears, which he deems "just so high school."
"For me, this time around it's been important to stay, at least as much as I can, out of the limelight," he says. "And I think that's made it more enriching. I've received so much more from it by keeping it just between the two people it's supposed to be between."
He adds, "There's no pretense about anything. It's just a sort of coming together of two people."
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