updated 10/05/2011 AT 8:40 AM ET
•originally published 10/05/2011 AT 7:30 AM ET
The Queen of Nice is back – and happier than ever.
“I did not expect it when I met her at Starbucks,” O’Donnell, 49, tells PEOPLE of falling for I.T. headhunter Michelle Rounds, 40, whom she began dating a few months ago.
“She didn’t look like any lesbian I’d ever met,” says the talk show host. “But it’s fun and very exciting.”
Back on the air after a short-lived stint on The View from 2006 to 2007 and an 18-month gig on SiriusXM radio, O’Donnell credits hormone replacement therapy for making her life more manageable – and joyful – on all levels.
“I’m in menopause, and I’ve been having really bad hot flashes,” she says. But O’Donnell’s therapist offered up another reason for the heat: “She said, ’ [It’s] because you’re also in love.’ ”
“It’s like you’re a withering rose and the petals are falling off and all of sudden you bloom again,” she says. “For me, [the hormones] have made a drastic difference.”
For more on O’Donnell’s journey, including exclusive photos from behind the scenes of her new show, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.