Jake Pavelka should be flying high: He just wrapped a role on the Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva-his first acting gig in decades (he played a young Chuck Norris on Walker, Texas Ranger)-and was preparing to return to Los Angeles from the Atlanta set to reunite with fiancée Vienna Girardi. But instead of excitement, the Dallas-based pilot is glumly trying to process the end of his engagement to the woman he once called “everything I ever wanted and more.” Just three months after 15 million viewers watched him propose to Vienna on ABC’s The Bachelor, Jake broke up with the 24-year-old former Hooters waitress by phone from some 2,100 miles away. Acknowledging that “it was a pretty inopportune time,” Jake, 32, says he had no choice but to end things after realizing his fears that their relationship was unraveling were coming true. “On my part now, there are some trust issues,” he says. “A lot of red flags.” The most glaring? Reports of infidelity and news that Vienna had sold a story about their troubled relationship to a tabloid magazine (see sidebar; she declined to comment to PEOPLE). “That seriously breaks my trust,” he says. “I would never do that to her. I am beside myself that she would dishonor the relationship like that.”
But for fans who have followed Jake’s lovelorn adventures-first on The Bachelorette, where he was cut loose by Jillian Harris, then on The Bachelor, where he drew widespread cries of what-was-he-thinking? after choosing outspoken Vienna over easygoing college admissions administrator Tenley Molzahn, 26-the breakup hardly comes as a shock. Current Bachelorette Ali Fedotowsky (who chose her job over Jake on The Bachelor) posted on Facebook, “WOW. Not really surprised, though.” Even those close to Vienna say they never really saw the relationship going the distance. “Her idea of fun is going out and spending all night with friends, just getting crazy and having a good time,” says Amy Gainey, 25, a former classmate of Vienna’s at the University of Central Florida. “He’s more like the guy who is like, ‘Let’s play Yahtzee.’ They don’t really have a lot in common.”
Speaking to PEOPLE senior writer Monica Rizzo the morning after the split, Jake firmly refutes the idea that the romance was flawed from the get-go. “For the skeptics out there, I followed my heart, and if I had to do it all over again, I would make the same decision over and over,” he says. “I don’t regret what I did.”
Why did you end things?
Vienna and I had been trying to work out some issues. I went on The Bachelor to find love with very pure intentions. Regardless of what everybody said, I met a girl that I fell in love with. My heart told me we were good to go. As a byproduct of The Bachelor, wonderful things start to happen. You get to meet people, things like Dancing with the Stars and Drop Dead Diva. And I started getting lots and lots of pressure from [Vienna].
To get married?
No, not to get married. Vienna hasn’t begun her career yet. She was watching these doors fly open for me, and it was causing an intense amount of jealousy. I took a lot of criticism over Drop Dead Diva [from her]: “Are you actually going to do something like that?” That’s coming from somebody that should support me.
Jealousy became an especially big issue when you were on Dancing with the Stars last season, right?
DWTS was tremendously hard on our relationship. It wasn’t the grueling schedule; it was the fact that they didn’t ask her to do it, that it happened to me and not to her. She was really wrapped around the axle that it wasn’t her, and I was sensitive to that. But it’s like, I wanted you to support me, not pummel me every time I came home because the world wasn’t revolving around you 24/7. I tried to include her in any way I possibly could in anything that I’ve done.
Is that why she was included in the DWTS finale?
Have you ever seen anybody who’s not competed on the show dance in the finale ever? I wanted her to feel included. That was me just trying to express my love to her.
Did reports that Vienna has been getting close to Greek star Gregory Michael play a part in the split?
This is not what caused the breakup, but it’s a factor. I’m 32 years old. I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve dated a lot of wonderful women-Vienna included. I’m not stupid, and I’m not going to tolerate it. And I’m not going to be in a relationship that I don’t fully trust. It’s not pointing in a good direction as far as infidelity, but right now I can’t prove it. I don’t know when and if I can … but right now I don’t trust her.
Was anything else a factor?
What really did it for me, to be honest with you, is it’s come to my attention that she went to a tabloid behind my back, looking for a little publicity. I’m so mad at her that she would use this as a little publicity stunt. That’s not the girl I proposed to…. I’ve got to find somebody that’s going to be happy when great things happen and help me from falling into the bad stuff. Unfortunately I wasn’t getting that from Vienna.
Do you feel betrayed?
That’s exactly how I feel. I don’t know if she realized I was proud to stand by her side. America couldn’t stand it that I chose her, and I’d defend her. For everything to come apart like this, I absolutely feel betrayed. I feel like I don’t even know her.
Sources close to Vienna have said that she feels you were only with her to gain more fame for yourself.
Her accusation of me being with her to get publicity-I was with her because I was in love with her. I can’t identify her motives.
Sources have also said that Vienna claims you two had not been intimate for a long time and that you were only affectionate toward her in front of the cameras.
That’s insane. That’s being dramatic, and that’s reaching. She has me mistaken for somebody else. I’m trying to be a gentleman and be as diplomatic and sensitive to the situation as I can.
Do you regret choosing Vienna?
No. I’m glad that I chose Vienna. I’m sad it’s turning out this way. Just because you’re in love with somebody doesn’t mean the relationship is going to work. There were a lot of special, deep moments we shared. My brother just graduated from medical school, and my sister-in-law did backflips for him. That’s what I’m looking for in a relationship. Vienna is simply unable to do that. I feel like I’m throwing her under the bus … but everybody went through this journey with me. And they deserve to know what happened. I think it was jealousy that killed us. I can’t call Steven Spielberg and say, “Hey, put her in your new movie.” It seemed to me the fame is basically what she was after in the end.
Was there no way to work it out?
I said, “Vienna, let’s move out of L.A. Let’s not do the back-and-forth thing to Dallas. Let’s move to Florida. Would that help?” I was trying to meet her in the middle. But at this point in life, she’s not real sure what she wants…. One of the things that caused this relationship to deteriorate on my part was she wasn’t contributing anything. She didn’t work; she wasn’t looking for a job. I told her, “If you want to go to med school, law school, whatever … you made great grades in college, and I will pay for it.” She wanted to be in entertainment, but she wasn’t doing the necessary things to get there. “Babe, go get your experience, and I will support you.” But sleeping until 10:30 every day is not going to cut it, and it felt like a big load. It’s not my place as a fiancé to financially support somebody. It’s been a lack of respect and support on her part. It wears on you when you’re a guy having to support your fiancée who’s very capable of going out and creating success.
How did your family take the news?
My parents are sad. They’re most worried about me right now.
You’ve had much more life experience than Vienna has had.
She has a very protective father, and he’s kept his family sheltered and safe and very loved. But I think maybe she will do really well stretching her wings a little bit.
Will you ask for the ring back?
Yes. We’re no longer engaged, and she can’t wear that ring. I’m trying to just get back up on my feet. I’ve got some really interesting things acting-wise coming down the pipeline. Acting was something I did as a kid, and I thought I’d hung it up. I’m going to just enjoy life as much as I can.
Do you feel there’s any chance of reconciling with Vienna?
In my mind it’s over. I don’t want to live life going, “Maybe, maybe, what if, what if?” When people do that, you don’t move on. I’m never going to say never. But I’m not pursuing her, and she’s not pursuing me.
So is there someone else in the picture for her? For you?
I don’t know if there’s somebody else in the picture for her. There’s not for me. I’m not saying she cheated on me. But I’m not going to be surprised if more stuff comes out. I have no idea. I’m just putting my seat belt on.
Are you still eager to get married?
I was accused at one point of being desperate. Yes, I think anybody that wants to get married is desperate to marry the right person, not just simply walk down the aisle with anybody. I do want to get married, but I want to marry the right girl.