February 20, 2018 09:04 PM

Arie Luyendyk Jr. vied for Emily Maynard‘s heart on season 8 of  The Bachelorette. Now, he’s on his own journey to find love on the latest season of The Bachelor — and he’s blogging about it exclusively for PEOPLE! Follow Arie on Twitter at @ariejr.

As we flew back to the U.S., it finally sunk in that we were about to start going to the women’s hometowns. I was about to have one of the biggest weeks of my life. I know I said that last week too (and probably the week before), but it was honestly true about most of my weeks on The Bachelor. Each week offered a new, exciting, and important chapter in my journey to find love and a fiancée. As someone who hadn’t been in love or considered marriage for five years, this was all that mattered.

My week in Italy was difficult, and the wounds from saying hard goodbyes were still fresh. Still, I knew I needed to go into this week with an open heart and an open mind. When I started on The Bachelor, I thought that by this point I would have a clear picture of who I’d want to propose to. But here I was, on a long international flight, watching Cars 3, having very real feelings for four very different, very incredible women. For all of them, I still had so many questions. Could Kendall and I make up for lost time, having connected later than the rest? Could Becca and I maintain our recently rekindled passion? Would Lauren and I figure out why we felt so strongly for one another? Tia and I have so much fun, but did we work as a couple?

I knew that soon, I’d be sitting in the homes of four families, trying to convince them of so much. They’d probably have questions about my character, my past, and about whether or not any of this was real. Initially, my family was so skeptical when I was on The Bachelorette. They didn’t believe in the journey or that someone could actually find love on a TV show. It wasn’t until they saw the way Emily and I looked at each other that they realized how real it all was and how in love we were. I hoped that a similar thing would happen when I met the families this week. It would be my only time meeting the families before a proposal, so the pressure was on to make a great impression.

First up, I headed to Los Angeles to see Kendall. I can whole-heartedly say that I have never dated anyone like Kendall before. That’s one of the great parts of being the Bachelor: you meet women who are so different from the people you usually date. Kendall is quirky, intelligent, fun, and definitely the only woman in the world who’d take me on a date to her taxidermy studio. This was actually an unexpectedly nice aspect of this leg — taking a break from being in charge. Leading all the dates is really fun, but you can learn so much about someone by what date they choose and how they lead it.

Just like Kendall, the studio was surprising, weird, and wonderful. I think for the first 10 minutes I just walked around, mouth agape, saying that’s so crazy — and  that was before she showed me the rats. It takes a really special woman to get me to re-enact scenes from our relationship with stuffed dead animals, but that’s Kendall. She’s sexy and fun even when stuffing dead rats. Playing with our Arie and Kendall rats in front of the diorama of our first date in Paris was too weird and surptrisingly fun.

Before we talked to her parents, I wanted to get some time to chat with Kendall about where we were in our relationship. Compared to the other remaining women, we had a bit of a late start. This was actually our first one-on-one. Because of this, it was important for me to tell her that I was falling for her. For me, our relationship had blossomed far beyond our extreme physical chemistry and into something more.

WATCH: The Bachelor’s Arie Luyendyk Jr. Says he was heartbroken when Bachelorette Emily Maynard dumped him

Walking into Kendall’s house was totally surreal. Her screaming family, so excited to see her, was very cute. It was slightly less cute when they started grilling me, though. I understood and expected Kylie and Bob’s concerns about Kendall’s readiness, as I had the same concern. One thing I did not expect was for Kylie to be a body language expert.  Honestly, I felt we were sitting farther apart because of the seating arrangement more than our emotional closeness. I knew I’d have to ask all the families for their blessing because this would be our one time to chat before a possible engagement. When Bob brought this up before I even could and told me that he wouldn’t be able to give his blessing, my heart sunk. I was really thankful that by the end of our conversation he said he’d support Kendall if she were to get engaged.

At the end of a very fun but very stressful night, it felt great to hear that Kendall was falling for me too. It was easy to question our connection or whether we were far enough along, but it was even easier to recognize how good we made each other feel. Both of us grew so much from our relationship. She made me more open and fun, I made her more vulnerable and communicative. It was scary, but I was so excited to see where it could go.

Up next, we were headed to the small town of Weiner, Arkansas. I had been hearing about Weiner since the moment Tia walked out of the limo and made the wiener joke that everyone got except me (still embarrassed, everyone!). Because of racing, I’m used to being in small towns, and Weiner did not disappoint.

Tia planned such an amazing date. She somehow managed to find one of the only kinds of cars I’ve never raced. It was totally awesome racing around the track and even though Tia had some trouble, she was an amazing sport. That’s what’s so great about Tia, even when things go poorly she’s so cool and hilarious. I will always appreciated that she planned something I’d love on her home turf.

Tia’s family was exactly what I expected. They were so full of life and full of love. Just as Tia said, her brother, Jason, and dad, Kenny, were really hard on me. Apparently, they read all the rumors on the Internet before the arrival and had so many questions about my character and my intentions. As much as this was awkward and uncomfortable, I totally get it.  Tia is their family and they want to make sure she’s in a relationship with a genuine guy, not the “playboy” they read about on the Internet.  I know Tia had been hurt in the past by bad guys, and I assured them I wasn’t one of those guys. By the end, we all got along, even though multiple members of her family threatened to find me if I ever hurt their Tia.

As we ended the night swinging on the porch, Tia reiterated that she was still falling in love with me. My heart was full to see such an amazing, sincere, beautiful woman feel so strongly for me. I felt really good about where we were and started to realize just how hard my decision would be at the end of the week.

It was time to head to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to see Becca K. Becca was my first date and the first woman who made me feel hopeful I would find a wife here. She was beautiful, smart, kind, and poised and I knew she’d make such a good wife and mother. After we rekindled the passionate side of our relationship in Italy, I felt like we were ready to see if we could finally take the next steps.

Becca K.’s date was so meaningful and fun. Going to the apple orchard she went to with her dad as a kid was poignant and I felt good knowing she was able to share that experience with me. That day was so cold, but so beautiful. I probably ate some of the best apples I’ve ever had (they were so crisp and juicy). It didn’t matter whether we were etching our initials into a tree, shooting apples at targets, or making caramel apples, because the whole day was a blast. One part you didn’t see was Becca teaching me salsa dancing while we tried to warm up in a tent.

When we walked into Becca’s house, the place almost exploded with all the energy and all the love. I always knew Becca was very family oriented and I had heard her regale me with stories of her famous Uncle Gary. At the beginning of the meal, the family gave us hilarious gifts, making fun of everything from the show itself to the fantasy suites. They even wrote an epic poem to commemorate the occasion. The together family time was a blast, with everyone telling stories, and Grandpa Clyde enjoying the family’s famous split pea soup.

My conversations with Becca’s family were some of the more intense conversations I had that week. Uncle Gary had just as big of a personality as Becca described. As Becca’s second father, he was amazingly caring and equally protective. Our candid conversation about love, life, and my relationship with Becca was one of the best conversations I’d had in a while.  It was obvious how much he loved her and any hesitation about me was just about how much he loved her. Becca’s family overall was one of the more skeptical, but by the end I felt even Jill had warmed to me. She didn’t officially give her blessing for an engagement at first, but she did eventually say that if we promised to have a long engagement she could offer her support. I left Minneapolis feeling really good about where Becca and I were. We were falling deeply for one another and I learned so much about her by seeing her with her family.

Last of the week was Lauren’s hometown. Headed into Virginia, I was so excited to see Lauren. Last time I saw her, we said we were falling in love with each other.  This was heartening but also surprising. I still didn’t quite know where these feelings were coming from. I was feeling love toward Lauren, but I could not exactly tell you why. As soon as I saw Lauren on that beach, all of my fears and anxieties melted away. Even if I couldn’t tell you why, my feelings were real and I wanted to try and enjoy them.

Before being on The Bachelor, I was pretty scared of horses. Thanks to this date and Bekah M.’s date in Tahoe, I can safely say I am now an expert. Lauren and I had a great day, deepening our connection, but meeting her family definitely loomed over my head. All I knew was that her dad was a military man and that I should expect him to be very tough. The last guy they met was her former fiancé and they were going to be very hard on any new man in Lauren’s life.

My time with Lauren’s family started exactly how I imagined. The tension was high and the silences were long. At the time, it felt awkward and nerve-racking (especially given how much I cared about Lauren), but now I realize it was all coming from a place of love. They were worried about this strange man entering Lauren’s life and felt it was their job to be her protector. Honestly, I expected my time with Lauren’s dad to be the hardest, but her mom and aunt were way harder on me. When I asked her mom if she’d give her blessing on an engagement, she eventually said she’d trust Lauren in whatever decision she were to make, but did not give her blessing easily.

Leaving Virginia, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. It was my last rose ceremony as The Bachelor and I had four women who I could imagine marrying. After a night of not sleeping and a fully day of deliberation, I put on my suit with no more clarity than I had before the week began. I had such amazing times with all the women and their families and my feelings were growing for each woman in significant ways.

I stood there, looking out at them and truly didn’t know what to do next. That’s why I needed to pull Kendall. My feelings for her were so strong, but I still had no idea if she was ready for marriage. My biggest fear was that at the end of this I’d choose someone who wasn’t ready or who didn’t choose me back. At this point in the journey, Kendall was the embodiment of those fears. In relationships, I believe in clear communication. I had to ask her, straight up, if she could see this working. When she sincerely answered yes, I knew I needed to see where our relationship would go.

ABC/Craig Sjodin

Saying goodbye to Tia was almost impossible. For so many weeks, she had been the person I’d go to when I wanted to feel better. I looked to her in crowds for reassurance and loved talking to her and hanging out. Also, I knew our lives meshed together so well. At this point in all of this, though, I could no longer just follow my logical brain. I know Tia wanted a reason for why I said goodbye, but there was no “good reason.”  She didn’t do anything wrong, it was just my feelings for her weren’t as strong as my feelings for the other women. Tia is beautiful and smart and accomplished and fun, but, for whatever reason, my heart just wasn’t there. Sometimes this happens in love. It doesn’t always make sense. Even though I knew I’d miss Tia so much, I also knew it was time to say goodbye. Watching Tia’s ride home broke my heart. Tia, I just want you to know that you’re worth so much and you’re going to find an amazing relationship.

Leaving this week, I realized that we were here, in the final stretch of this journey. There were three women left, all of whom I could sincerely imagine being my wife. I really thought at this point I’d have a good idea of who that’d be, but I was wrong. During these last few weeks I continue to travel the globe and desperately try to gain clarity about my hardest decisions yet. And if navigating my final relationships isn’t enough pressure — I get a visitor who threatens to ruin the whole thing. Will my future be sabotaged? Will I be left broken-hearted? Tune in next week to see how it all goes down.

Best, Arie

The Bachelor airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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