March 06, 2018 10:00 PM

He’s come under fire for his actions in the most controversial Bachelor season finale yet, but Arie Luyendyk Jr. is the first to admit that his journey to love is far from conventional.

“This might not be what people feel like is the perfect love story,” Luyendyk Jr, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story. “But it’s our love story.”

The Bachelor, 36, sent fans into a tailspin when he proposed to Becca Kufrin on Monday night’s finale, only to break up with her — while cameras rolled — to reconcile with runner-up Lauren Burnham. (They got engaged on Tuesday night’s After the Final Rose special.)

The days leading up to the proposal “were extremely difficult,” says the race car driver. “Becca was very confident. She was a safer choice. Because Lauren had trouble opening up, I felt terrified that she would eventually leave me.”

Watch the full episode of PEOPLE Cover Story: The Bachelor’s Arie Luyendyk — ‘It Was All Worth It’, streaming now on PeopleTV. Go to People.com/peopletv, or download the app on your favorite streaming device.

Arie and Lauren
Jana Cruder

Continues Luyendyk Jr.: “It was a constant battle between my  head and my heart. And I went with my head and I shut down those feelings I had for Lauren.”

After the show ended, “I just had this hole in my heart,” he says. “I felt like I had one foot in my relationship with Becca and it wasn’t fair to her. I tried to get over Lauren, but it just wasn’t possible for me.”

  • For more on Arie and Lauren, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

In the weeks since they’ve reunited, Luyendyk Jr. and Burnham say they’re stronger than ever.

“Lauren accepted the fact that I made a huge mistake,” he says. “And in a crazy way, I feel like we’re better for it.”

Adds Burnham, 26: “We’re extremely happy. It’s such a surreal feeling to get here.”

As far as the backlash and criticism over Luyendyk Jr.’s handling of the situation, “I know it’s not a popular decision,” he admits. “But as long as I have Lauren, it doesn’t matter. It was all worth it.”

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