updated 12/13/2013 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/16/2013 AT 6:00 PM ET
Many Florida Georgia Line fans may not have even realized Brian Kelley had a serious girlfriend, let alone one that he was secretly planning to wed.
Well, the cat’s out of the bag now – the singer, 28, married Brittney Marie Cole, 23, on Monday in an outdoor ceremony at Kelley’s Nashville home, the couple confirm to PEOPLE exclusively.
“The whole process has been non-traditional,” Kelley tells PEOPLE of the surprise nuptials. “There was no official proposal or exchanging of rings. We had just fallen in love, and I knew I couldn’t live without her. It sounds like a terrible cheesy movie, but when you know, you know!”
Although the couple have only been dating for seven months, they’ve actually known each other for over three years. When they first met, both Kelley and Cole were already seeing other people.
“She definitely caught my eye [back then],” admits Kelley. “Brittney’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I always knew in my heart that if I were single, then I wanted a chance with her. She was my dream girl.”
Their other relationships ended, and the pair reconnected earlier this year, sealing their fate. “The first day we hung out, we just knew that it was something real,” Kelley tells PEOPLE. “I’d never wanted to make someone my wife before. I always want her by my side.”
“We just knew,” agrees Cole. “There was this energy that we had never felt before.”
Choosing to keep their engagement and wedding news low-key, the couple were wed at sunset in front of just 40 guests (including FGL’s Tyler Hubbard and their bandmates). Following the ceremony, everyone enjoyed a tapas-style dinner in a renovated barn on Kelley’s new 32-acre property before moving to the light-covered house for drinking and dancing.
“Whimsical really comes to mind when I describe it,” says Cole, a psychology student at the University of Georgia. “It was just fun and cozy and warm.”
When it came to a dress decision, the newlywed turned to the Internet – Etsy, in particular. “It’s a dream dress,” Cole says of her short, long-sleeved choice, which she paired with a feathered headband. “And it was a dream way to obtain it, because I didn’t have to go to 6,000 bridal stores to find it.”
As for their next steps, the duo say they’ll head somewhere tropical for a honeymoon and then hope to expand their family – with a dog. Although a puppy is in the plans for next year, children aren’t on the agenda quite yet.
“One day for sure, but it’s too crazy with everything going on right now,” Kelley, who recently racked up CMA and ACA awards with Hubbard, explains. “We’re enjoying being with each other. It’s a beautiful love story. It really is.”