When Gina Neely announced her split from her husband, Pat, after more than 20 years of marriage, fans of the couple’s successful cooking show, Down Home With The Neelys, were shocked, to say the least.
Today, the 52-year-old mother is ready to find love again, with the help of relationship expert Diann Valentine.
Neely will join Valentine and four other single women on a quest to find romance in Rome, Italy, on the upcoming Bravo series, To Rome For Love.
TheGrio caught up with her to find out what made her take the leap across the pond to find love and why Italy was the perfect place to help her get her groove back.
“I had no idea what to expect from Italian men,” Neely told theGrio.com in an exclusive interview. “I had always heard they loved Black women and were more aggressive romantically and very sexy, and it was all true. Italian men celebrate us and are intrigued by us. They find Black women to be beautiful and unique, and it was really nice to be celebrated in that way.”
“I have never dated outside of my race before now, and I was definitely open to it. You have to look at what each man brings to the table, how you get along, what their characteristics are, instead of thinking about men in a certain block. For me, it’s not about color. It’s about the character of the person in front of me.”
According to Neely, the autonomy of being in another country where the men weren’t familiar with her celebrity status or prior relationship was the biggest blessing of all.
“Just being Gina and not having to deal with what people think they know about me and my past relationship was the best part of the experience,” she said. “That’s the part I enjoyed the most. These men knew nothing about me, so they got to meet me as my organic self, and that was refreshing.”
“When I took this journey, I had no idea I would learn so much about myself. It was very positive and forced me to look into myself a little bit and helped me realize maybe I’m too guarded.”
Neely wasn’t the only one who benefitted from introspection. Even though the ladies’ missions were to find love, each of them embarked on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance while they were away.
“I was the most seasoned one there,” Neely admitted. “Some of the others are still marinating. It was really fun, and I got to look at these women of different ages, at different stages, and compare their experiences to how things were when I was their age. It was fun in some ways and annoying in others.”
“The dating game is so different than the last time I was single. I’m not into meeting people on the internet and swiping right and swiping left. I guess I’m still old school in that I believe in meeting people one and one, looking into their eyes, and feeling out their vibe.”
While Gina refused to reveal whether or not she has found “the one,” we have a feeling she’s still on the hunt for Mr. Right.
“I keep my doors open. At the end of the day, I wanted to embrace the opportunity, and I did,” she says. “It’s really about my journey and what I gained from it, which is a lot of self-acceptance and understanding.”
To Rome For Love premieres January 7 at 9/8c on Bravo.