Ted Danson Says He Wasn’t Ready When He First Met Wife Mary Steenburgen in 1983: ‘I Was a Hot Mess Back Then’

Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen have learned a thing or two when it comes to spending quality time together.

The couple, who have self-quarantined amid the pandemic at their home in L.A., "have been alone except for today for the last nine months," says the actress during the pair's socially distanced photo shoot in January for one of this week's PEOPLE cover stories. "And we've decided to stay together."

Jokes Danson: "Every morning we get to choose. It's a rule."

Danson, 73, who currently stars in Mr. Mayor, and Steenburgen, 67, who returns to Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (both on NBC), first met when he auditioned to play her husband in the 1983 film Cross Creek — and didn't get the part. "Which is a miracle, because man, I was a hot mess back then," the actor admits. Allows Steenburgen: "I was married. He was married. That was not our moment."

Watch the full episode of The Love Issue: Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen on PeopleTV.com or the PeopleTV app.

Years later, when they were both cast in 1993's Pontiac Moon, "we both had sworn off relationships," Steenburgen says.

The actor had just gotten out of his very public relationship with actress Whoopi Goldberg and finalized his divorce from his second wife, Casey Coates, with whom he shares their grown daughters Kate and Katrina; Steenburgen was divorced from actor Malcolm McDowell and raising their now-grown kids Charlie and Lilly.

"We both said the same phrase to ourselves, which was: 'Obviously we cannot be in a relationship,'" Danson recalls. "I could ruin anything. I'm not relationship material."

While Steenburgen admits she initially thought "that dude seems kind of complicated," both felt an undeniable attraction. "I wasn't ready for anything like a relationship," she adds. "We just kept working together and becoming better and better friends."

A canoe trip and picnic Danson planned in Mendocino, California, sealed the deal. "It was very magical," he adds. "We came back in love, to be honest, or I'll say smitten."

For more of Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen's exclusive interview, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Now married 25 years, the two relish the life they've created together with their blended family and look forward to spending their days side by side in the future.

"I want as long as possible in my life with Mary," says Danson. "I know it will have all of its hard parts but I want to experience love in all those moments."

Which is just fine with the actress. "Not to sound corny, but I would sign up for a 100 more lifetimes," Steenburgen says.

"There's no hollow in my heart where I don't love him, or where I doubt this love," she adds. "There's no secret place where I say we weren't a thousand percent supposed to spend our life together."

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