Arie Luyendyk Jr. vied for Emily Maynard‘s heart on season 8 of The Bachelorette. Now, he’s on his own journey to find love on the latest season of The Bachelor — and he’s blogging about it exclusively for PEOPLE! Follow Arie on Twitter at @ariejr.
As we left Paris, I couldn’t believe just how far we had come. Not too long ago I was standing in the driveway of the mansion, nervous about whether or not I could actually be the Bachelor. Back then, I was worried if I was too old or too gray, or if there was a woman that I’d meet who could be my person. Now, I had a whole new set of worries. I had hoped being the Bachelor would get easier, but as I quickly learned, every day was new, and each decision was harder than the last. There were seven women left — seven beautiful, intelligent, interesting women. Each was wonderful and I could imagine a possible future with all of them. On the other hand, I still had so many questions. How do I know our lives will work together after all this? How do I know if they’re actually ready for me to meet their families? How can I fill my entire bag with Italian red wine?
Before I arrived at our hotel in Tuscany, I spent the day in Florence enjoying the architecture, looking at statues, and eating gelato. It was nice to get some time to enjoy the city before my week of dates. At the end of the week, I would be taking four women to hometowns — it was my biggest week yet.
My first date of the week was with Becca K. From the beginning, I was attracted to her beauty, humility, and kindness. I always knew she’d make a great wife and mother. We had such a strong start on our first date — my first date of this whole journey — but so much had happened since then. Finding a wife isn’t just about finding someone who would be a great on paper, it’s about love and chemistry. Going into the date, I knew that we needed this time to reconnect and see if we could rekindle our early passion.
I left my date with Becca feeling great. I went back to my room and opened a bottle of wine to unwind when I heard the knock. I was shocked to see Jacqueline when I opened the door. My breakup with Jacqueline was one of the most emotional moments in my time on The Bachelor. Getting broken up with always sucks, especially when it’s someone you’re as into as I was into Jacqueline. She’s so smart, interesting, and funny — and we’d just had so much fun in Paris. I knew that our lives were completely different and that an engagement may be difficult, but that didn’t mean I was ready to say goodbye. I was developing such strong feelings for her and thought that we really had a chance of making things work. I’ll never forget her nervous, shaky hands during our first kiss, or her thoughtful gestures during our little moments together on group dates. She’s truly a one-of-a-kind woman.
One thing you didn’t see was that after she left, I went and visited the other women in their suite. I wanted to express my sadness about Jacqueline’s departure and remind them how seriously I was taking this journey. I told them if they were ever having doubts in our relationship to let me know. To be honest, I didn’t sleep much that night. I reflected on my relationship with Jacqueline and wondered where things could’ve gone differently. I also now had new fears about the status of my other relationships. Would any of them also choose to leave?
I resolved to not let the Jacqueline breakup affect my date with Lauren the next day. From the moment I met her, I knew I wanted to get to know Lauren more. In life, sometimes you’re just pulled to certain people. The problem was, until our date in Paris, she was unable to open up. As attracted to her as I was, I needed more than just that gut feeling to be able to take her to a hometown. My hope was that in Lucca, we’d be able to build upon our amazing connection and the depth we reached in Paris.
We had so much fun biking and walking around. The more I spent time with Lauren, the stronger I felt about her. At this point, though, I still had no idea how she felt about me. Yes, we had an amazing day shopping (one of the highlights was trying on hats and aprons), playing soccer with local kids, and climbing the tower in the center of town, but I still had so many questions. Was she ready for a hometown? Was she falling for me too?
That night we had dinner at Villa Grabau, a beautiful historic estate outside of Lucca. I hadn’t been this nervous for a date in a long time. The stakes felt so high. Throughout the whole journey, I tried to think logically. I’d constantly ask myself: Do our lives fit together? Could she move to Scottsdale? Is she ready for marriage? With Lauren, it was never about those things. I couldn’t logically explain any of my feelings. I didn’t know why I felt so strongly, I just did. And I know excusing myself during dinner looks crazy. It felt crazy at the time, but when Lauren told me she was falling in love with me, I was overwhelmed. In that moment, I knew I felt the same way but needed to take a moment before I could properly express myself. I hadn’t felt like this about someone since Emily [Maynard]. This feeling was the reason I came back on the show. Even if I couldn’t quite explain why, I was falling in love with Lauren and needed to give her a rose. Now, with two of the four hometowns decided, I felt more hopeful than ever.
Saying goodbye to Seinne wasn’t easy. She’s breathtakingly beautiful, and so intelligent. Oftentimes, I joked that she was perhaps too good for me. But, that’s one of the crazy things about love. Just because someone is great, doesn’t mean they’re great for you. As much as I liked and respected Seinne, I knew my connection to her wasn’t as strong as my connection to Becca K. or Lauren. As much as I wanted that connection to grow stronger, it hadn’t. In situations like that, I had to listen to my heart. As much as it pained me, I knew that I needed to say goodbye.
The final date of the week was the three-on-one with Bekah M., Tia, and Kendall at the beautiful Villa Reale. We started the day by playing some bocce and touring the property. I wanted to try and have some fun and ease the tension, but we all knew how high the stakes were.
As always, my conversation with Kendall was fun and interesting. Other than worries about her readiness for marriage, our relationship was on such a good track. Our chemistry was off the charts, but I needed to make sure that our relationship wasn’t just about chemistry. In the past, I’ve had relationships based solely on our physical connection, and didn’t want to repeat my mistakes. After we both acknowledged our willingness to work through our logistical issues and that we felt our connection was deeper than just a physical one, I knew I wanted to give her a rose.
That evening, when Tia reiterated her feelings of falling in love with me, I knew I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. We always had so much fun together and she was always the first person I wanted to talk to when I had a rough day. I could imagine our life together and felt like she was really ready to make a marriage work. I couldn’t wait to meet her family and see Weiner, Arkansas.
I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to Bekah. During our breakup, she was so gracious and mature that it reminded me of all her amazing qualities. Bekah always saw me for who I am and always called me out on my flaws. Even though she was young, our connection was real. Ultimately, I said goodbye not because we weren’t a good match, but because I didn’t think she was ready for marriage and because my relationships with other women felt stronger.
As I ended my time in Tuscany, I realized that the next week I’d be meeting these four women’s families. That meant I would potentially be meeting my future in-laws. I knew from being on The Bachelorette that families can be very skeptical of the whole falling-in-love-on-TV thing. It was going to be my job to convince them it was possible and show them how real my feelings were for their daughters.
Meeting the families was even more stressful and dramatic than I anticipated. You’ll see people question my past, my intentions and my character. I’m forced to confront rumors and try to win people over who don’t want me dating their daughter. Also, in all of this, I make one of the single hardest decisions of my entire life. I came into this experience to find the love of my life, and I was one step closer. And just when I thought I had seen it all, the rest of the journey gets even crazier. You won’t want to miss it. Thanks so much for reading — see you next week.
The Bachelor airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.