How a cynical PEOPLE reporter became a true believer after witnessing the Bachelorette alums' love story unfold

Credit: Kwaku Alston

Monica Rizzo, a senior writer for PEOPLE who has been covering TV for 14 years, attended Ashley Hebert and J.P. Rosenbaum’s wedding this month. Here, she shares some of what you won’t see this Sunday when The Bachelorette: Ashley and J.P.’s Wedding airs on ABC.

It was four years ago that I first started covering The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for PEOPLE. If someone had told me then that one day I would be quiver-lipped and sniffling as I watched two reality stars get married while the cameras rolled for a TV special, I would have rolled my eyes.

No, not me. Never.

But alas, that was me on Dec. 1, in the third row, beaming and tearing up as I watched Ashley Hebert and J.P. Rosenbaum, whom she chose at the end of her season on The Bachelorette, exchange vows in front of 200 guests at the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif.

The ceremony, presided over by the ABC franchise’s host, Chris Harrison, was sweet, heartfelt, funny, poignant, and most of all, unforgettable, because in front of me were two people who truly love each other. I know that because I felt their connection when we met in Malibu in July 2011 to talk for the first time about their engagement and their future plans.

I’m a sappy romantic, so I root for every couple to go the distance.

J.P.’s eyes twinkled when he talked about Ashley. He was impressed with her independence and bowled over by her enthusiastic, genuine, fun-loving personality. Ashley, as she had always done with me, spoke from her heart about J.P.’s kindness and consideration. I remember telling my editor at the time, “There’s something about these two. They are so normal. Such a good fit.”

We had stayed in touch, so I didn’t feel out of place at their wedding. Quite the contrary. I’ve been to a lot of weddings in my life, and this was one of the best, hands down.

Both J.P. and Ashley are warm, friendly and instantly likable. And so are their families and friends, and their extended Bachelor family. Before dinner, champagne flowed, glasses clinked and people hugged. The softly lit ballroom was infused with an exuberance that lasted the entire night.

As the deejay started spinning tunes at the reception, Ali Fedotowsky, Michael Stagliano and Michelle Money were among the familiar faces jamming the dance floor. At first I politely watched. I’m working, I thought. But as the night wore on, I couldn’t resist joining the party. “Baby Got Back” pumped through the speakers, and I just had to hit the floor. Trista Sutter and Jillian Harris clapped while Ali cheered me on as I danced like, well, a soccer mom at a wedding.

The dancing went on until nearly midnight, and I couldn’t stop. None of us could. It was too much fun. Chris Harrison and producer Elan Gale tied their neckties together for an impromptu limbo competition, (I lasted one round. Producer Cassie Lambert was declared the winner). Later, former Bachelorette contestant Craig Robinson swept me off my feet and dipped me. My shoes flew off, and all I could see as I went upside down were Jason and Molly Mesnick smiling and laughing. To say the least, it was a blast.

As things wound down, I gave J.P.’s mom a hug goodnight and remarked on the dozens of Mark’s Garden flower arrangements on the tables. “What do you think they’re going to do with all of these?” I asked. “Take them!” she insisted. “They should be enjoyed.” Oh my God, I thought. That’s just what my mom said to the guests at my wedding.

The next morning, Ashley, J.P. and I had bloody Marys and mimosas at the bar overlooking the gardens where the wedding took place. We toasted their new beginning as husband and wife. I couldn’t help but gush to them what a wonderful time I had sharing in their special day.

“That makes me so happy!” Ashley squealed, looking over at J.P., who smiled, which gave his eyes that signature twinkle. I meant it. I’m a believer in love, and I can honestly say it was a highlight of my year to be a part of something so rare, so special, so real. I can’t wait to watch it again on TV.

Here’s wishing Ashley and J.P. all the best that life has to offer. They deserve it.

The Bachelorette: Ashley and J.P.’s Wedding airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.