Bachelor Nation, the most eligible Bachelor is off the market. Go ahead, take a moment.
In May 2017, fans were left devastated when Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell announced they were ending their engagement after falling in love on The Bachelor in 2016.
They had quickly moved in together. They had their own spinoff, Ben & Lauren: Happily Ever After?, that aired for a single season on Freeform. They seemed so happy. What went wrong? Maybe it was the shock of it all that made Ben and Lauren's split the most Googled celebrity break-up of 2017.
While Lauren moved on after a few months, dating Devin Antin for a year before going public with country singer Chris Lane, Ben, arguably the most beloved Bachelor ever, had yet to move on.
"I've started dating again," Ben revealed on the Jan. 15 episode of The Ben and Ashley I. Almost Famous podcast. "This is big news, right?"
Why yes, Ben. Yes, it is.
"I am dating," he continued. "I'm actually dating one person that we'll talk about in a couple of weeks."
While Ben has yet to publicly reveal who his new girlfriend is, he did say it's currently a long-distance relationship involving lots of FaceTime and called her "the best, purest person I know."
This is the first time Ben has seriously dated someone since his devastating split with Lauren, and the 29-year-old has been open about his struggle to move on.
In September 2017, Ben opened up to E! News about wading back into the dating pool after two stints in the franchise.
"I'm not trying to hide anything. I've gone on a couple dates," he told us. "It's been nothing but dates. I think it's been blown out of proportion. I'm not exclusively with anybody. But I am starting to put my foot back in the water."
And he fully admitted he was not ready for serious relationship.
"Life's been a little crazy for me, and it took me a while to get my mind and heart back in the place to start dating again," he explained. "But I'm starting to, and I think that's the best step. I didn't know how to start, and I'm starting. But that's about as far as it goes. There's some great people in my life. Hopefully soon I will be able to show somebody off."
And yet, that didn't happen. And many fans were surprised when the cast for The Bachelor Winter Games, a competition-driven spinoff featuring former contestants from the international versions of the franchise, was announced, and Ben was named as one of the cast members.
But it quickly became clear that Ben did not head to Vermont ready to find true love…or even entertain the idea. Sure, he made a lot of friends, but no real romantic connection seemed likely, leading to an emotional exit as he opened up about still struggling with the end of his engagement to Lauren.
"To be honest, I'm still emotionally dealing with the loss of that relationship," he said. "At some point, I have to ask the question what exactly am I doing here? So I'm confused."
So then Ben did what so many of us do when we are conflicted; he talked to a friend, host Chris Harrison, leading to one of the franchise's rawest moments in recent history.
Acknowledging that being back in the Bachelor environment was bringing up "a lot of weird memories" for him, "Ben said, "It just doesn't feel right," he said. "My fear is that if I were to be broken again, I'm not full enough right now to recover from that."
He went on to say that the public's interest in and sometimes careless inquiries into the break-up was making it hard for him to move on, even months after it happened.
"When something so real to you then seems so small to everybody else—and not just friends and family, millions of people—it breaks you every day, and that's what sucks, because as much as I've moved on—and I have—it still hurts, even though we're months past it."
Cue all the tears…and yet another outcry from fans for Ben to one day be the Bachelor again. While open to the idea when asked about it, Ben told us in August 2018 that "it's just not the right timing."
And now, months later, he's finally in a relationship. But since his split with Lauren, the Denver-based former software salesman has focused on his career, making major changes since viewers first met him on Kaitlyn Bristowe's season of The Bachelorette.
Ben left his desk job, which he kept even after becoming a bonafide reality TV star, for good in order to focus on Generous Coffee, his charity-focused coffee company, full-time. He also co-hosts a hit podcast with fellow franchise alum Ashley Iaconetti for iHeart Radio, hosts NBC's 1st Look TV show, he opened a restaurant in Denver, and maintains his own blog, The Mahogany Workplace, all while sort of serving as the franchise's unofficial guidance counselor. (When Ben talks, contestants listen.)
Basically, he kept busy. Really busy.
As Generous Coffee became a major part of his professional life, Ben admitted to Entertainment Tonight that his new job could be filling a void in his personal life.
"I wonder if one of the reasons why [my job with Generous] has picked up speed, picked pace up for me in my life and I am so busy, is because it is replacing maybe a [relationship] void that I have. Which isn't exactly a bad thing," he said. "Luckily, this is a really good thing in my life. So, instead of replacing it with some vice that is bad, I replace it with something good and that pumps me up a lot. But, yeah, I still feel lonely at times. You know, it's weird to sit around a group of friends and have a big friends' dinner, or to go out somewhere, and you're literally the only single person. You know, that's an odd feeling! There are moments in time where I do feel lonely. Where I do look around and wonder, 'Why not me? What's going on here?' But I know that I am in this season of life for a reason and I'm here for a purpose."
Another major factor for Ben as he began dating was the fact that he was in the public eye and had first-hand knowledge of the impact that could have on a couple.
"I had a hard time accepting the idea that the public would view and judge a relationship I could pursue," he wrote in a blog post reflecting on his time on The Bachelor Winter Games. "Being scrutinized takes a huge toll on a couple."
While the spinoff ultimately didn't lead Ben to love (or even a fun fling), it did help him determine he was ready to get back out there.
"It was good to confront the idea I could be ready to date again. After serious reflection, I decided I was ready. I'm excited about the possibility of committing again," he wrote. "And I don't think I would have confronted this issue head-on if it wasn't for the show."
But before he could commit to a serious relationship, Ben committed to himself, not just when it came to work.
"Many people enter relationships to fill a void. But I believe the healthiest relationships are mutually beneficial, with each participant working to remain whole on his or her own," he wrote in a blog post offering dating advice. "Cracks in a relationship may not be noticeable on the outside. Many people hide their cracks until they burst, and the whole relationship runs a muck. Personally, I seek to be in a healthy space in life before entering someone else's, because filling a personal void with another person's heart won't lead to a healthy life in the end."
And part of that process was accepting that he was at a different place in his life than many of his friends and fellow Bachelor alumni.
"I am one of very few friends that aren't in a serious relationship or are not married with kids. I think it's an Indiana thing. It's a Midwest thing," he told Entertainment Tonight in May 2018. "Now I'm 29 years old. I'm four years later than I expected to be [married]."
He went on to admit he felt "pressure" to The One prior, but "now I'm more confident in where I am to say, 'OK, I don't need to feel that pressure, that's not exactly valid.' But still, I'm a little late to the game. Single life is something I've had to accept and it's not something that I desire forever."
While some fans were surprised to see Lauren enter a new relationship so soon after her break-up, Ben wasn't interested in assigning blame or being angry with his former fiancée.
"We can all blame others for relationship failures. Push the blame on someone else, and we'll hold no responsibility — it's an easy escape. But I'd like to think none of us want misguided behaviors to mark our lives," he wrote on his blog. "Until you accept responsibility for your actions, you'll struggle to develop self-respect as well as the respect of others."
And in his interview with ET, he reflected on his role in the demise of his relationship, admitting he eventually came to accept some responsibility.
"It's so easy to be the victim... and so when you start looking inward and saying, 'OK, what exactly did I do that affected this breakup or this relationship negatively?' [and] for me, it's my reactions towards things," he said. "I have routines and consistencies in my life that for anybody else to come in and change that, for me, I was holding on to them way too close. So I have to become less reactionary."
He continued, "The other part of this [is] I'm too sensitive. I just get so sensitive sometimes and that affects just my normal relationships because I doubt all the time in the back of my head, you know, is this relationship for real? Do they really like me? Do they really care? Or let's throw another one out there, do they really love me? That's something I have to give up, because when I start to get in my own head about that, I start to push the person away."
And now, over a year and a half after his split with Lauren, Ben is back...in a relationship.