Sometimes the bloom comes off the rose. And sometimes it wilts, gets torn apart petal by petal and then thrown in an incinerator for good measure.
Such was the case when Bachelor Colton Underwood split with his final rose recipient Cassie Randolph last May. Though their initial separation seemed friendly enough, the couple of 18 months putting out statements about how they were "just meant to be friends," the situation was much thornier behind the scenes and their journey eventually ended in a restraining order as Randolph accused her ex of "stalking" and "harassing" her. (Months later she dismissed the order, with Underwood telling E! News, "The two of us were able to reach a private agreement to address any of Cassie's concerns.")
And though Colton doesn't delve into those particulars in a newly penned final chapter to his 2020 book The First Time, released on his 29th birthday Jan. 26, the experience doesn't sound all that great.
"Falling in love is like open-heart surgery," he wrote of the experience. "Breaking up is like seeing your heart in someone else's hands and realizing the anesthesia has worn off. Geez, it hurt. The pain was excruciating."
And it didn't help that he was recovering from actual excruciating physical pain. Because it was right around the time the former NFL tight end was diagnosed with COVID-19 last March that their problems really began to crystalize.
The deal-breakers had always been there, he shared in his book. "Cass felt there was pressure on her to commit one way or the other because of the way our relationship unfolded so publicly on television," he noted of the constant questions about when she might be ready for an engagement. "I tried to give her space. She didn't feel like I saw all the different sides of her, especially the small-town girl who liked the slow pace and quiet of her beachside hometown. Sometimes she would say outright, 'I feel like you don't understand me.'"
But that issue was ever-so-slightly pushed to the backburner as Cassie and her family helped Colton recover from the virus that left him shivering, drenched in sweat and terrified he might actually die. "I struggled to breathe. Nothing is scarier than not being able to fill your lungs with fresh air," he detailed of the weeklong experience. "They worked at about 20 percent capacity. Everything hurt, from the bottom of my toes to the top of my head."
But as his fever broke and he began hanging out around her family ("I regret that I was sometimes more stupid than smart when it came to always wearing a mask," he admitted), California's stay-at-home orders placed another burden on their struggling romance.
"It was when Cass and I finally tried to grab back a bit of normalcy that I realized the virus was only part of a much larger problem," Colton wrote. "After more than a month of being cooped up in her family's home, both of us were feeling overwhelmed and smothered and eager to return to our respective apartments where we could enjoy our own space. Before we left, though, she took me aside and told me she was struggling with everything in our relationship and didn't know what to do. My head spun like one of those characters in a cartoon. What? She was struggling with everything?"
Once the shock wore off, he realized that the "misfires and miscues" between them were actually more like "one of those proverbial deaths by a thousand paper cuts" to Cassie. But in the moment, he wasn't ready to hear it.
"I put my finger to my lips for silence. She stopped mid-sentence," he shared. "Both of us had always agreed to avoid finishing hard conversations like this one. We didn't want to come to the conclusion that we weren't good for each other. We were scared of confronting that truth. So we didn't."
But for all of his attempts to go back to the connection they had as they celebrated their first anniversary in St. Lucia, it became clear their relationship "was essentially over save for the three magic words, 'We're breaking up.'"
Though he returned to her family home to celebrate her April birthday, two days later he drove to stay with family in Colorado, keeping in touch with his now-ex-girlfriend intermittently.
"Our conversations were delicate check-ins," he wrote. "We were friendly but real. She wanted to talk about how to move forward and remain friends, while I held on to hope that we could get back together after some time passed. Finally, Cass called and said she wanted us to make a public statement about our breakup. Our Instagram accounts were filled with speculation about our status, and she wanted to put it to rest."
Making it Insta-official felt "too final," he admitted. "I didn't want to put out a statement. Period." But ultimately it wasn't his call.
"You don't need to be a therapist to understand why I was so resistant," he continued. "I didn't want to break up. I didn't want to accept that Cass wanted to break up with me. I didn't want it to be over. I didn't want any of this to be real."
They cried over FaceTime as they posted their statements and months later met up for one final date. "Afterward, she came back to my place, where we had a few drinks, hung out, and we were Colton and Cass again the rest of that night," he detailed. "Then, when we woke up the next morning, I could tell everything was different. I had the urge to say I love you before she walked out the door, and I sensed she did, too. No door shut that softly has ever made a louder sound."
His recovery has gone far better than expected, he shared, as he filled his days recording his Internet talk show Coffee with Colton and working toward deals on TV and clothing projects.
"I think I'm headed in the right direction and letting my faith shine the biggest light on where I need to go," he said. And he knows the journey he started back at the Bachelor mansion all those months ago is far from over. "I also love that this last chapter is only the next chapter," he explained.
So let's all "cheers" to him continuing to document each one. Because the first chunk, laid out in his New York Times bestseller, is a must-read and, much like falling in love, should be experienced over and over. We've broken out the best bits for you to consume below—hot tub and champagne glass optional, but heavily encouraged.