Before hopping onto a Zoom call with E! News from their 13th-century rental in Italy's wine country, Caelynn Miller-Keyes issued a final loving, but firm, warning to boyfriend Dean Unglert. "Coming into this interview she was like, 'Okay, just don't be so sarcastic this time,'" Dean admitted halfway through our chat. "I'm like, 'That's all I know how to do.'"
Though her advice wasn't without warrant. "Sarcasm does not translate well to written word," noted Dean, speaking from years of experience sharing his thoughts as one of Bachelor Nation's most recognizable faces both in interviews and on his and Jared Haibon's podcast, Help! I Suck at Dating. "It's hard enough to convey it in person, but then when it gets written down on the Internet or something, it's always a miss. Every single time."
In other words, yes, he regrets connecting his two-year romance with Caelynn to the word "suffocating."
"Yeah, I've had to deal with the repercussions of saying that," he acknowledged of calling the former Miss North Carolina "the most suffocating person" he's ever dated during an August episode of his podcast. "But in context, if you listen to it, I was responding to someone who was talking about being suffocated, so I was simply using the same verbiage."
Still, he allowed, "I deserve all that scrutiny, of course."
Though it's worth noting that one person not taking issue with it is Caelynn herself. "With Dean, he's the sweetest guy, but sometimes he just says things that people interpret in the wrong way," she explained. "But I know him so well that I know he didn't mean anything bad in it. And I know our relationship is strong, so I'm never, like, mad at him or questioning anything." Truthfully, she continued, she found it kinda funny: "We both laughed at it."
Given the chance to say it in a more eloquent way, Dean would stress it was more of a commentary about how strong their bond remains more than two years after they left the Bachelor in Paradise beach together, riding off into the sunset in his 2006 Dodge Sprinter.
"In theory, especially for someone like me, the concept of being suffocated sucks. Like I hate the idea of someone with you at all times," Dean explained. "But then with Caelynn, for some reason or another, the suffocation actually is pleasant. And in my head I'm like, 'No, don't suffocate me.' But in my heart, I'm like, 'Yes, suffocate me. I like this. This is really nice.'"
In turns out, they really like spending all that time together. Enough that halfway through a meandering drive through Italy that's kept them just a feet away from each other for the better part of two weeks, they're still rhapsodizing on the beauty of a road trip.
"Obviously we love encouraging people to get out on the road," Dean said of pairing with Mobil 1 "the official motor oil of road trips" to help one wanderlust-filled traveler win the ultimate $20,000 road trip. (A dream getaway that is likely to include a special cameo with Dean saying he and Caelynn would "love to intersect them at some point and hopefully do some sweet adventure while we're on the road.")
Veterans of the highway ("There are, like, a million saved locations on my Google Maps," shared Dean. "And whenever I put a new destination in, I see how many of those I can hit along the way"), the couple has already logged some 1,000 miles making their way from Milan, through the Dolomite Mountains and on to Bologna and Tuscany.
"There are just so many stops in Italy that are just so beautiful," raved Caelynn. "And I feel like every single place we can hit so far, just continues to get more beautiful."
The pair maintain two travel bucket lists—getaways they intend to take as a couple like an upcoming drive from Colorado to the Northeast, and those Dean plans to attempt solo, such as his February trip to Antartica and a trek through Nepal. And its vacations like this current jaunt from Santorini through Italy that are perfectly tailored to their interests.
"It's great for her because the wine is delicious and the views are nice and the food is amazing," said Dean. "And it's great for me because, especially when we were in the Dolomites, like we were in the mountains the whole time. So even this morning I went on a pretty intense hike through this insane mountain range. So there's a little bit for both of us."
That being said, they've long since worked out the art of the compromise.
"I think it just took time, because we are so different," admitted Caelynn. "Like, I wasn't super into hiking before I met Dean. And still it's like pulling teeth sometimes. But I like to just enjoy great food and walk around and shop."
But when in the breathtaking Dolomite mountains...
"I'm like, 'We're in the most beautiful, scenic place in Italy, we're going on a small hike at the very least,'" recalled Dean. "Once I pointed it out, she was like, 'You're right. We're here. We need to go on top of that mountain and see what the view is like.' But I also, at the same time, was like, 'Okay, yes, we're in this beautiful little town in Italy, let's definitely go shopping.' We each give and take in a very equal amount when we travel." (They also know when it's time to do their own thing, Dean noting that "a big part of traveling together is the willingness and understanding that you need to carve out your own personal time every once in a while, too.")
They'd wager that their shared willingness to bend is the key to their success that has eluded so many other Bachelor pairs.
They're all but married, Dean wearing a ring on his left hand to show "I'm committed to Caelynn and only Caelynn" (as he put it on last summer's The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons - Ever!) and have put down roots, recently purchasing a home outside Las Vegas. But they're still planning for a life filled with adventure and at least one extended stay abroad.
"On our list has always been Japan and maybe somewhere in Argentina," said Dean. "But after being here, we're like, we have to live in Italy for a little bit, too. Hopefully one day we can make that work."
But no matter where they're living (Los Angeles, Vegas, Asia, the back of Dean's hightop conversion van), they've truly figured out how to live.
"I feel like we're just constantly learning more and more about each other," noted Caelynn, crediting their eagerness to put in the work, taking various personality tests that correctly deduce their love languages and apology styles. "I think those are actually so helpful in relationships, too. Because the more comfortable you are in relationships, the more comfortable you are bringing up different things that you weren't prior."
Perhaps just as important as getting their communication on point, though, was learning the importance of a well-timed joke.
"We definitely have our little arguments and our little tiffs, especially when we spend so much time together," said Dean. "But it's all pretty quickly water under the bridge, which I think is pretty important, too. Like, we'll get annoyed with each other for five minutes and then, we'll crack a joke and get over it."
That's a quality they also see in their current Paradise favorites Joe Amabile and Serena Pitt. "They remind us a lot of ourselves," said Dean. "Like, they're always cracking jokes at each other's expense." Agreed Caelynn, "They're taking it seriously, but they're very casual."
And we've yet to once hear them mention their growing follower count.
"Every season since Instagram was invented—it's always been there," Dean revealed of this round's current influencer conversation. "There's always been talks about it. It's always been this bad. People have always said the same things that are being said this season."
It's why he once espoused on the fact that so many contestants hit the beaches of Nayarit in the hopes of entering "into Bachelor relationships simply to get a social media following without any intent of carrying out any of the responsibilities of being in a relationship."
Meanwhile, he turned up in Mexico with few expectations and walked right into his person.
"If I met Caelynn when I was 25, it probably wouldn't have worked out," Dean admitted. "Because when I was 25, all I wanted to do was go out and party with my friends and I was doing all that stuff all the time. And so when my identity was partying and my friends, no relationship is going to be successful. But now my priorities have obviously shifted."
Growing up was key, but "Caelynn has obviously been very instrumental in all those shiftings," he continued, before stopping himself. "I'm rambling, so I'm just going to stop talking."
Here's hoping his obvious affection translates well in print.