The setting (St. Lucia) was paradise. The ring (3.5 carats!) was picture perfect. But to the shock and surprise of Bachelor viewers, Juan Pablo Galavis did not propose to his final rose recipient, Nikki Ferrell, on the show’s 18th season finale.
The couple gave an exclusive interview and photo shoot to PEOPLE, then swiftly declined to do any other press. (Chris Harrison likely understands why.) In their sole sitdown, Galavis remained laid-back about the show’s outcome.
“You go on [The Bachelor] thinking if there is the connection, you propose,” Galavis, 32, tells PEOPLE. “But I don’t feel there’s a need to propose to somebody if I don’t feel 100 percent. I didn’t know Nikki. I want to know more, a lot more.”
For her part, Ferrell, 27, is happy to just be Galavis’s girlfriend – for now.
“Had he gotten down on one knee, I absolutely would have said yes. But having a ring on my finger wouldn’t stop us from breaking up,” she says in an interview with PEOPLE. “What’s going to keep us together is having a real relationship. I’d rather have him propose when he feels it’s right.”
And Galavis, who came under fire for everything from confrontations on the show to controversial comments off the air, wants to set the record straight about the kind of man he is and how the public perceives him.
“It’s hard because [viewers] saw a character on TV,” he says. “A lot of things about me were not shown. I’m not a bad guy. People who know me, know who I am.”
So do the happy pair have plans for the future? Ferrell, who is a nurse living in Kansas City, Mo., and Galavis, who has his sports consultant job and 5-year-old daughter Camila at his home in Miami, are taking it day by day.
“It’s our start now,” says Galavis. “We can get to know each other fully. We’re not in a rush.”
For much more of the exclusive interview and photo shoot with Juan Pablo and Nikki, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday