Ben Higgins On Life And Love After The Bachelor – Exclusive Interview
When he landed the coveted role of the Bachelor, Ben Higgins was immediately dubbed “the Perfect Ben,” and it’s not very hard to see why. During his stint on The Bachelorette, he proved early on that he was an all-around good guy with his charming personality, mild-mannered demeanor, gentlemanly ways, and genuine, heart-melting smile. It was on that show that he poured his heart out to Kaitlyn Bristowe, confessing he struggled with the fear of possibly being “unlovable.” That realness and vulnerability quickly led him to achieving fan-favorite status, and to this day, he still gets messages of support from Bachelor Nation.
Although it was obvious that this small town Indiana native was on his Bachelor season for the right reasons, he ultimately did not find lasting love with the woman he bestowed his final rose to, Lauren Bushnell. In fact, they split a little over a year later, and their separation became the most Googled breakup of 2017. This left Ben at a crossroads, but, as we know, there is life — and love — after The Bachelor. Now, years after his reality show run, Ben is living his best life.
The List caught up with the former Bachelor over Zoom from Nashville, where he is quarantining with his new fiancée, Jessica Clarke. During the lockdown, the groom-to-be has been quite busy planning a November wedding, releasing a new memoir, and even visiting Bachelor Matt James. During our candid conversation, he spoke openly about everything from behind-the-scene series secrets to how he met his future bride to his deep faith that influences everything he does. The future is bright for the former reality star, and he harbors no regrets about his experience on the franchise, as it led him to where he is today.
Ben Higgins felt like he was set up to fall short as the Bachelor
You have said that when ABC called you “the Perfect Ben” ahead of your Bachelor season, it led you to have these big shoes to fill. How do you think that played into your experience on the show?
Well, I mean, I think it sets expectations up for you to fall short. There’s no… People love an underdog and people love to have that story, the Rudy-like story, the person least expected shines. But when you’re framed in a way that’s everything but the Rudy, I don’t think people relate to that very much. I don’t think… I just knew as soon as that was the phrase, I was going to fall short.
In your book [Alone in Plain Sight: Searching for Connection When You’re Seen But Not Known], you said it was your coworker in Denver who thought you should apply to The Bachelorette.
After that, what was the process like? I know you said that you were filling out paperwork in the hotel. What kind of questions do they ask? Did they ask you questions about your religion? Because I know that is a big part of your life.
Yeah, they do. It’s been years. They ask a bunch. It’s like 400, there’s like a ton of questions. There’s a personality test. And then they just… they get to know you the best they can. So I mean, it’s a room of people. You kind of sit there in the middle and they just ask you as many questions as I think they can think of in maybe the 10 to 15 minutes they have with you. A lot of them are very open-ended.
That was the season where there were two Bachelorettes. When did they tell you guys that there were two women?
I was in a hotel. It was our very first night in the hotel, kind of getting prepped for the show. So we found out separately; we didn’t find out from them. We had to watch it on TV. Because [the announcement] was airing on TV, the final thing. And then two days later, we started. So I was watching TV. They told us to watch it to find out who it is.
Oh, interesting. In the book, you explain how you were the first guy to come out of the limo and were obviously nervous. So what was going through your head at the time?
I think the thing that was going through my head the most was I wasn’t unable to process the environment. There was so much going through my head, everything was new, everything was confusing. You know, I didn’t know anything about entertainment, so I didn’t know what it was like to have a producer sitting beside you or to have cameras and lights. So it was just a ton, which made me kind of paralyzed in stimulus I’d say.
You also confessed that you felt a little inferior when you were in the limo with the other contestants.
How Bachelor Nation responded after Ben Higgins poured his heart out on TV
In Alone in Plain Sight, you mention the important conversation you had with a producer on the show. You’re still friends with him, right?
Yeah. He’s a good friend.
You talked about when you opened up to Kaitlyn [Bristowe], which is the opening of your book… After that, you got a lot of feedback on social media.
Yeah. So, all right … I definitely did feel inferior. I think one was because everybody that’s in that process has a really crazy cool story to tell. A lot of them are very successful. A lot of them are… all of them are good looking in their own way and they’re charismatic. And I don’t know, it’s just, they’re larger-than-life personalities. And so, because of that, I think I was sitting there as a kid from Denver.
Not really knowing who I was, not really having a great story to tell, not really being super successful. And I just felt like I didn’t add up. Like I was a misfit there. It also didn’t help that my buddies before I left had told me, “Hey, we’ll see in a few weeks.” And part of that was just like this, “Wow, my friends see me this way. I see myself this way. I am this way. I’m just going to be lucky to be here.” So I started feeling very inferior.
And then to go on to when I admitted I felt like an outsider or unlovable. So my buddy who’s the producer, came up to me, maybe four or five weeks in. I was getting ready for something and he came up. He’s like, “Hey Ben, I don’t like you.” “What?” He’s like, “I don’t like you.” “Why?” He said, “I don’t like you because I don’t know you, and you don’t let anyone get to know you. You’re closed off; you’re a chameleon. You stand in the corner. You don’t say anything when you know stuff’s happening, and you do say something when you know the time is right. I don’t know you and as a result, I can’t like you.”
What this Bachelor conversation made Ben Higgins realize
[On his conversation with the producer]
So we went down and we talked about it and we talked about it for a long time. And it’s one of the most in-depth, one of the most caring conversations I’ve ever been a part of or somebody I knew legitimately cared about me. He had his job to do, but he actually, in that four hours, cared. And even if it was just for his job, he at least cared to get me somewhere, to talk to me.
And so we talked and at the end of it, I admitted to him that like the reason I was that way, the reason he was seeing things, it was because I did know I did that. Like that was strategic in my mind. It came second nature at that point, because I had done it forever, but it was strategic and it was a false front. I told him I did that because I was worried I had… there was two reasons why I did that. One is because if I really let people get to know me and they still didn’t like me, then it would crush me. However, if in the back of my head, people, when they come up to me, say, “I don’t like you.” And I’m like, “Well yeah, because I don’t let you get to know me.” At least I had that out, subconsciously.
The small town Indiana native didn't immediately accept the offer to be the Bachelor
You obviously you didn’t expect all the feedback and response you got [after pouring his heart out to Kaitlyn] personally. Explain some of the messages you received at that time.
A lot of them. Like flooding in. A lot of really heavy messages from people saying… This is a moment where some people maybe thought it was going to be, maybe, I don’t know… I felt like at the time I was protecting myself against something that could have been controversial, but I don’t now know how the controversy exists within that statement. But I think that was kind of how I was prepping myself. Instead, I got an outpouring of people saying, “Hey, I can relate.” “Hey, I feel this way.” “Hey, I struggle with this.” Really heavy messages like, “I have had mental illness.” “I struggle with feeling I have any value and purpose here.” And I mean thousands of messages, which was surprising. And they did, and they came and they came and they came. And still today I get messages when somebody feels this way in life or about this.
In your book, you say you want your life to have a purpose and meaning. I mean, that’s part of it, right? That people feel comfortable to reach out to you. So where were you when you got the news that you were going to be the Bachelor and did you immediately accept it?
I got a call. I was in St. Petersburg, Florida at a buddy’s house. And I hadn’t seen him in a while. I was working from down there at the time. I was flying back and forth between Denver and St. Pete and I was down there at his condo, just kind of hanging out, I don’t know, playing video games or something. And they called and they said, “Hey, we want to ask you” and I was like, “Does this mean you’re asking me or does this mean you’re considering me?” And he goes, “No, we want to ask you.” And I didn’t initially accept. I think I gave it two or three days because I wanted to ask friends, I wanted to ask family their advice… So I think it was like three days of me just kind of telling them, “Hey, can I give you 72 hours? And I’ll let you know.” I was pretty confident the whole time that I would say, “Yes.” I just wanted to give it some time.
Ben Higgins opened up about those over-the-top Bachelor dates
So as far as the show goes, how much say does the Bachelor have in the one-on-one dates and the locations and things like that?
Locations, not as much, just because they’re booked, like months in advance. Dates, as much as you want, I guess. I mean, you get to sit down when you’re first announced. The next week, you kind of fly out. At least this was my experience. I don’t know if they still do this. And they kind of tell you, “Hey, what’s your dream for the season?” And you say, “Here’s the dates I would love to go on, or here’s my dream dates.” But like, I think by the time you’re done filming a show, there’s 40 dates total. There’s no way I’m coming up with 40 dates. And so I’ve always explained it like this. I think one of my things to them was, “Hey, I’d love to go to a vineyard. That’d be awesome.”
And they’re like, “Great.” But they just like blow it up and put it on steroids. Because then we take a helicopter ride to a vineyard at nighttime. But yeah. I mean, you get as much as you can come up with, but it wasn’t, I don’t know, that wasn’t that important to me. And so I did as best I could to give them as many options as I could. But it wasn’t that important to me.
But did you get to choose who you took on the one-on-ones?
Yeah. I mean, for the most part. I think there’s like, if you fall for somebody quickly, you can’t take them on every one. I don’t think the show would be like, “Yeah, you can just take them on every date that you want.” There’s a rhythm to it. And you can kind of plan [it] out. I think what I did was I planned it out weeks in advance, saying, “Okay, this week is going to be this person. This week’s going to be this person. At this point, I bet things are going to be pretty hectic in the house. I bet people are going to feel disconnected. This is who I want to bring on that date because I knew that was…” So you got to get strategic about it, I guess.
You were the first Bachelor in history to say the L word twice. If you could do that over, would you change it?
Probably. I just think it was unwise. A little manipulating. I think I did it because it was authentic to how I was feeling, where I was at, but I don’t think it was healthy and I don’t think it was helpful. And so I don’t know if I would regret it as much as I’d just say, I just don’t think it was a great decision. I just think I’ve learned from that.
After his breakup with Lauren, Ben Higgins became "a shell" of himself
You prayed to God when you had to make the final decision [on The Bachelor]. So why do you think that He led you to choose Lauren?
I don’t know. I think there was a lot in that. I think there’s a lot in there that I was still needing to learn and maybe that season of life was a learning period for all of us that were involved. Maybe the whole experience leading up to then [and] the breakup brought me to where I’m at today. And so maybe that was just the right person at the right time to help expose some of my weaknesses and help me see what I was looking for in a partner. And that would be a great gift and it [was]. I mean, today I feel like I’ve learned a lot and in that process, [been] through a lot.
Your split was the most Googled breakup of that year. How did you deal with all that public scrutiny, since, like you said, you were a pretty private guy.
Personally, I became a shell of myself. I think I was confused. I think, because once again, you’re back to that “Perfect Ben” thing where all of a sudden you know the backstory, [but] nobody else does. You know how things are processing, playing out; nobody else does. Then you’re kind of sitting in it, being like, “Why is this going on in the midst of something really sad, really hard?” And so I just kind of sat in it, learned from it. Also, how I dealt with it was sitting in it to learn, so I could become a better person coming out of it, or at least a more self-aware person, you know? At least I had a lot of things to work on and a lot of things to figure out. And I think both of us did. And so I sat in it, sat in that season of life and just learned as much as I could.
How The Bachelor's Ben Higgins found love again
For readers who don’t know, tell us how you met your fiancée, Jess.
I messaged her on Instagram. I was in Nashville for a fundraiser, and I was scrolling through Instagram. I saw her picture. I said, “That girl is beautiful.” I screenshot it because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that.
Whose page were you on?
It’s a good story, so…
Was it a friend’s page?
Uh uh [shaking his head]. I was staying at a Hilton, Downtown Nashville. There’s one next to Bridgestone Arena. When I walked into the Hilton, there was like a hockey team checking into the front desk and people were taking pictures with them. There was like a big crowd of people. And so I went up to my room and I was like, “I want to see who that was.” And so I just clicked on the location of the Hilton to see who was tagging that location, thinking that maybe… I was bored. And so when I did that, Bridgestone Arena, because it’s right next door, their pictures popped up. Her picture popped up on that.
So you’re supposed to get married in November. Is that still the plan?
Yeah, it is. I mean, no matter what, we’ll get married in November. A wedding or just us getting married, it’s going to happen.
You said on a podcast [The Viall Files] about choosing to sleep in separate beds and everything. So why do you think that choice was the best for you and your fiancée?
Oh, I mean, I think for us it was just something that, one, was really important to her. And then as a result, really important to me. I think it builds, I think it gives us something to look forward to. I think it was what we needed in our relationship. I think we also though, in all transparency, committed to that way before we knew our wedding was going to get pushed back a year. That really throws a wrench in the whole thing.
Yeah. But it was just, I mean, honestly, it was a personal decision that we made, saying, “I think this is healthy for us and it’s going to help us become stronger as a couple and let’s stick to it.”
I give you credit for your honesty too, because a lot of people would not say that. So I think that’s nice.
The steps Ben Higgins had to take to appear on Matt James' Bachelor season
So you were on set for Matt James’ season of The Bachelor recently. First of all, what kind of COVID protocols did you have to take?
I mean, every one. It’s weird. I did not expect it… I flew… How it worked was I flew into Pittsburgh, had a car, they pick you up. We get in the car and it’s all COVID-safe, boundaries and everything. You get dropped off at this massive resort. And I’m like super pumped because I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to see some friends. Some people I haven’t seen in a while.” No. You walk in. There’s some nice human who hands you a key. They say, “Go ahead and go up to your room. All the information is there.” You go up to your room. There’s a pamphlet that’s like, “We’ll stop in the next… We’ll visit your room to give you your first test.” But then they said, “Hey, after you’re here 48 hours, we’ll come in and give you your first test.” And so you’re just sitting in a room, no access, they have food that gets delivered, you can get drinks, I guess.
And you’re there five days. I think the fifth day is when you’re released… After three proven false COVID tests you can then leave and go on set. Until then, you’re five days in a hotel room. It was not what I expected. It was crazy. For the 10 minutes that I was shown on television. That’s a lot.
I watched it [Ben’s Season 25 appearance] over before I talked to you and you didn’t really say goodbye, right? All of a sudden it was just another scene.
Just done. Yeah. I mean, when I was there, I did. They just didn’t show it… But I mean, it was good to see them and good to see Matt, but yeah, five days of the lockdown.
This is the advice Ben Higgins gave Bachelor Matt James
So as far as Matt goes, I know you said in an interview that he has it tough because he wasn’t on the show prior. So what advice did you give him that we didn’t see on the show?
Matt’s a great dude.
Yeah, he seems like it.
And he cares. And so my advice was just like, he’s going to do great things in this. He’s going to become wildly popular. I said, “Don’t let your head get too big and don’t let your head get too small.”
Like you’re going to get criticized also. Just stay true to yourself and this is all going to work out. And that’s been my advice. I did talk to him a lot. And he talked to me a lot about this too. How do you react to chaos and really difficult situations? You can control your reaction because I think it’s the mark of a really good leader is like, how do they react to chaos and controversy? And so, you’re seeing it, he’s taking his time, he’s taking his deep breaths. He’s looking at the situation. He’s not overreacting. He’s not getting mad. He’s not getting angry. He’s not pushing people aside.
And I think he’s doing an awesome job. But it is hard for him because he’s never done it before. So he doesn’t know what’s going on in the house. He doesn’t know what it’s like to live amongst 15 other people, getting all worked up and anxious. And I think that he’s doing great, given that he doesn’t understand. I think he’s doing fantastic, just as a good dude.
And he also has the religious aspect which I feel like you can relate to as well.
In his new memoir, Ben Higgins highlights stories from friends who have overcome adversity
So in the book you told some really inspiring stories of friends who overcame adversity. To me, the one that stood out was Avery. So can you tell us about your friendship and how is he feeling now?
I’m glad you said Avery. Avery is a great dude. I’m actually going to see him in a week. So he’s doing great. He actually had COVID a few times.
I know you wrote that [Avery had COVID] in the book, and I was like, “No!”
Yeah, that was his first stint of COVID. I think he got it two other times. He survived, which is wild for him because he is the perfect candidate to be really hurt by COVID. He was sick and fought through it and got over it. So he’s healthy. He’s back to work. He works at a place called Brewability. So Brewability is a place in South Denver that hires kids with [mental and physical disabilities], and they run this brewery and pizza shop. It’s awesome. And so we’re going to do a book signing down there in nine days. And yeah, it’s interesting because I’m glad you said Avery because he’s been a huge part of my life. He’s a good friend to me now… And I met him on a tour through the children’s hospital and then I shared some great memories with him, went to prom with him, he’s come to parties like…
Well, I thought it was cool that he never wanted to meet any celebrities, but he wanted to meet you, right?
Yeah, I don’t know why. I have to ask him that. I haven’t asked him that. It’s true though. Like Peyton [Manning] came through and he’s like, “Yeah, whatever. I’ll take a picture with Peyton.” And then I come through. I don’t know why… I don’t fully understand why it was me that he wanted… except the fact that Avery really wants to become a good dater and maybe he thought I could give him some advice.
Ben Higgins calls these Bachelor franchise stars friends
You also mentioned in the book a few times how this is the most isolated time in human history. So what are the challenges to releasing a book during this time?
Oh, I mean, I think many. I think there’s a lot of screaming and there’s a lot of yelling and one of the tactics and one of the ways that I want to communicate in my life and with the book is not to yell and scream and to push people aside. And so I think this book has to find its voice and its space, and in a time where it’s really hard to find a voice in a space, I think that is going to be difficult.
And I think that people might read that as me being dismissive or passive. And it’s not at all. It’s saying, “No, we have issues we need to confront, but we first need to figure out who we are as people, who we are to others and how we affect others, who we are romantically, if that’s in singleness or if that’s in romantic partnership and who we are with God… No matter what, what do you think of God? No matter if you believe in a god or not. What do you think of the idea that there might just be something greater than yourself out there?”
And I do think we are in the most isolated time in human history. I think the only way we can get back to it is if people start stepping up, speaking out against that. So the only way we can come back from being in isolation is for us to become intentional about reconnecting again, or connecting again, or connecting for the first time. We have to have people start speaking up on that side of it. So hopefully this book is a piece of that solution.
You also talk a lot about the power of human connection and friendship. So who are some people you’ve met through the franchise that have become your lifelong friends?
Oh, many. Yeah. I mean, Wells is a terrific friend of mine. Jared [Haibon] and Ashley [Iaconetti]. Becca Kufrin and I did the tour together. Becca Tilley is just a tremendous human to me, and Jessica, she just really is just a caring, kind soul. Dean [Unglert] and Nick [Viall]. I mean, like I talk to these people, probably… Chris Harrison… like a couple times a week and… Yeah, just a long list of huge people in my life now.
Faith plays a very significant role in Ben Higgins' life
Because your book is so God-centric, I wanted to ask how your faith in God helped you through being on reality TV and coping with all the fame.
Oh, well, I’d say it this way. I’d say the only way I make sense is if you understand my relationship, also my doubts, my questions about God. That’s the only way that you’ll understand why I do what I do, or maybe why I’m stressed out about something or why I’m processing something in a certain way. Because ultimately, if I believe that there is a God and that God is truth, then it’s going to affect everything I ever do.
If that is a reality, that is not a concept or something that makes me feel better about myself. If that’s a reality, I have to hold myself accountable to that. We all do. And so the second part of that is I believe in a God who unconditionally loves. I believe in this God, because I feel like I’ve interacted with this God. I’ve prayed for this God, I’ve searched for this God. I believe that the way this world works best amongst each other is when we’re loving each other well, is when we’re lifting each other up, is when we’re laying ourselves down at the feet of others in service and in kinship. And so, because I see that in the world, I also have to believe that that is a picture of who God is and how God looks at us. And if that’s the case, then it’s going to affect everything I do, including going on The Bachelor, including going to work, including my relationship. That’s just going to be a part of it, because it’s the truth and how I operate.
My final question is, what are your future plans? I mean, besides getting married, of course.
Yeah, it’s a big year. We just bought a house in Denver, up in the mountains. And so we’re working on that right now, getting that… that’s a big plan for this year. Obviously getting married is a big plan for this year. We’re opening up our third restaurant here… It’s a wild business, but yeah, I think this week we’ll actually open it up, which is exciting for us. And then, we’re going to take some time off. It’s been a little bit of a sprint here for the last couple of months and I think we’re going to enjoy ourselves a bit and just kind of rest. And I’m excited for that.
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