Christina Dugan
September 12, 2017 01:44 PM

Two of Arie Luyendyk Jr.’s exes can’t believe he’s set to search for love on TV.

ABC officially announced the 35-year-old as The Bachelor‘s next leading man last week. Before the reveal, Season 17 Bachelor Sean Lowe tweeted suggesting Luyendyk Jr. for the role, and his ex Sydney Stempfley responded with a crying-tears-of-laughter emoji: “The show would be perfect for @ariejr up until it comes to choosing just one.”

Now, Stempfley, 26, tells PEOPLE she regrets lashing out online.

“I might wish I could retract that, but I think I was saying that out of spite,” she says of the tweet.

Ironically, Stempfley had applied for The Bachelor without realizing her ex would become the suitor.

Sydney Stempfley/Instagram

“When we ended our relationship, I was pretty devastated,” she says. “I still am. Time is supposed to heal, but I think it’s getting harder, it’s getting worse. I felt lost. Our relationship was all I knew once I moved to Scottsdale. I leaned on my girlfriends for support and they suggested that I applied for the show, so I did. It was about a week or so before the announcement. I only submitted an online application. I haven’t been contact by the producers, but I’d be curious on their take on what’s happening. It really is a big deal. I would want to go on and clear the air with him.”

Stempfley says the couple dated for a little over a year after meeting on Instagram. She describes the relationship as serious, saying she spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family. They officially broke up July 31, she says.

Though they ended things “on good terms,” Stempfley says the split “was very abrupt and sudden.”

“I loved him, and he led me to believe that he loved me, too,” she says. “I thought the feeling was mutual. We never said it, but I thought the feeling was mutual. “I guess we were just progressing at different rates.”

She picked up her things from his house Aug. 17. And on Sept. 7, he became The Bachelor, leaving her “pretty inconsolable at first.”

“It was absolutely devastating,” she adds. “I was completely  blindsided.”

That night, though, Luyendyk called her.

“That conversation was very emotional,” she says, “He apologized to me.”

 

As for their romance, Stempfley says though they “had a great relationship,” there were “some red flags,” like his friendships with other women, including former Bachelor contestant Courtney Robertson, who exclusively opened up to PEOPLE last week about their on-and-off relationship.

“Him and Courtney Robertson work together in real estate – he said they were strictly professional, and I took his word for it,” Stempfley says. “It hurt hearing that they could’ve possibly been dating up until a few months ago. That was new to me.”

Besides building a career as a professional auto racing driver turned real estate agent, Luyendyk is best known as the runner-up on Emily Maynard‘s season of The Bachelorette in 2012.

Another ex-girlfriend whom he’s been dating on and off for the past five years says she’s surprised the Netherlands native wanted to return to the franchise.

“I’m shocked he’s on the show,” Giustina exclusively tells PEOPLE. “He’s a casual but loyal dater. I think he would be a great Bachelor, but I’m confused because of what he said in the past about never returning. … I think he wants love, but he always said he would be the new George Clooney — I always said the same that’s why we became such incredible friends and partners. I really don’t know what to expect.”

“I never watched any of his season with Emily,” she adds. “I’m not about that s—. And I always said it was his only bad quality. Obviously I’m not a fan of that fake s— in the slightest, and that’s why he couldn’t keep his hands or heart away from me for years.”

Before the official announcement, PEOPLE caught up with Luyendyk Jr. to get his take on things.

“This is pretty surreal,” he exclusively told PEOPLE. “It doesn’t really feel real yet, but I’m taking it step by step. The timing is just so perfect in my life. I could not be more excited for this journey I’m about to embark on.”

Lou Rocco/ABC/Getty

“I’m not nervous,” he admitted. “Now that I’ve had some time and distance away from it, it feels like the feeling I had before I went into it the first time. I think sometimes when you’re on The Bachelorette and you jump right into being the Bachelor, for me it would’ve been too soon. This feels more natural. I’m not concerned what people think. I’m just focused on the outcome. I want to find my person and will do whatever it takes!”

Fans have been divided over Luyendyk Jr.’s casting, but Luyendyk said he’s focused on finding his forever love.

“I just want to find that spark with somebody,” he told PEOPLE. “I want to find someone to share my life with. I feel like it’s my time. I’m going into this with an open heart.”

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