Southern Charm's Craig Conover Says Isolating with Natalie Hegnauer Brought Them 'Closer' Together: We Were in a 'Bubble'12/23/2020
Craig Conover is happy in love.
The Southern Charm star recently introduced fans to his new girlfriend, Natalie Hegnauer, when he revealed on the show that he self-isolated with her during the coronavirus pandemic this summer.
Conover, 31, tells PEOPLE the experience brought the couple "closer" together.
"We were stuck in quarantine and kind of shielded from the world," he says. "And it was a lot of fun. I know for a lot of people, it added stress to the relationship, but for us, it made us closer."
Conover and Hegnauer, who both tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time, passed the time binging television and getting to know each other on a deeper level.
"It was this insulated bubble where we watched Outer Banks, drank wine and enjoyed each other's company," he says. "It was kind of like an extended snow day."
Conover and Hegnauer met during a ski trip in Aspen in January and immediately "hit it off." The two reconnected later in New York City and officially started dating when Hegnauer celebrated her birthday in Charleston, South Carolina several months later.
But while their relationship made it through quarantine without a hitch, Conover admits that they've struggled with re-adjusting to dating in the real world.
"As quarantine lifted and we got back to our real lives, that's kind of when we faced some of the real pressures," he explains. "We're still happy, fortunately, but it has been a challenge."
Conover previously dated Naomie Olindo for three years before calling it quits in September 2017. Much of their relationship drama was documented on the hit reality show, with season 6 focusing on the fallout of their breakup.
The reality star tells PEOPLE he learned "lessons" from sharing the ins and outs of his relationship on the show and hopes not to repeat similar mistakes.
"Dating someone that's on TV isn't the easiest thing, and it's not for everyone," he says. "I think it definitely added to stress with Naomi and me. I think it speeds up the issues that you would have one day and forces you to address them head-on."
As for how much of his relationship viewers will see on Southern Charm this season? Conover says he's letting Hegnauer take the lead.
"It's kind of the catch-22. I've been doing this long enough that I know that it only works if you're transparent, and I'm comfortable doing that," he says. "I think she's great, and I would love to share her with the world. That's just going to be a personal decision on her hand."
"I don't think she was ever planning on dating a reality TV personality, but we're seeing what happens," he adds.
Southern Charm airs Thursday (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.
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