Speaking exclusively to PEOPLE ahead of Monday’s season premiere of the hit dating competition series, Viall, 36, opens up about his experiences with the women — and the romantic feelings he developed for several of them.
“As the Bachelor, all eyes are on you,” he confesses. “It’s certainly nerve-racking. The process was as hard as I thought it would be — a lot of highs and lows.”
“There are things I like to keep personal but at the same time, I think one them you’ll see throughout is that I wanted all the women to feel incredibly comfortable and empowered to ask me whatever they wanted to ask me and know that I would give them an honest answer and that it would be a two-way street,” he says. “I wanted to encourage that the entire season.”
And, he says, he wanted every relationship to “feel mutual.”
“I wanted us to be on the same playing field and both be just as empowered as the other person,” he explains. “I wanted to have an authentic relationship and that was something that was very important to me.”
• For more on Nick and this season of The Bachelor, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
And along the way, Viall admits he definitely fell for more than one person and found himself developing “strong feelings for multiple women.”
“It’s truly amazing,” he says. “I felt a lot of different feelings.”
“Early on with so many women, you obviously don’t know a lot of things about them but talking to all of them and wanting to make it meaningful to all of them is very physically taxing,” he continues. “And then as time goes on, it becomes more emotionally taxing and less physically taxing. And you get to know these women, there’s a level of respect. You’re asking them to do things they’ve never been able to do and to face stressful situations and their fears.”
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That being said, the sales account exec is the first to admit that dating multiple women at once is “incredibly hard.”
“And it’s a weird environment,” he says. “But the only way it works is if you give yourself to the process and allow it to work — because it’s not normal. By doing that, I think you really make yourself vulnerable in opening yourself up emotionally.”
“It’s incredibly tough dating multiple women and trying to have them enjoy the experience,” he adds. “But at the same time you have to be selfish to try to meet your needs and find someone you’re potentially in love with. Anyone who takes it seriously and wants to make it a genuine experience is going to have their dark moments. And I certainly had mine.”
But Viall maintains he’s ready to take the next step and get married — with the right woman.
“I’ve been willing! I just haven’t been lucky enough to find that person,” he says. “I’ve been ready for a long time. But I’m never going to force it.”
So, did he find love? We’ll have to wait and see to find out, but one thing’s for sure: He’s in a great place.
“I really grew to care about and admire these women,” he says. “I can say that I’m very thankful — and very happy.”
The Bachelor premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
• With AURELIE CORINTHIOS