'The Bachelorette' 's Rachel Lindsay: I Cried All Night & Day Before Saying Goodbye to Dean After Hometowns

Rachel Lindsay is blogging exclusively for PEOPLE about her journey to find love on The Bachelorette

Rachel Lindsay vied for Nick Viall‘s heart on season 21 of The Bachelor, now she’s on her own journey to find love on the latest season of The Bachelorette — and she’s blogging about it exclusively for PEOPLE! Follow Rachel on Twitter at @TheRachLindsay!

Four cities, four men, four families, one me … let’s talk!

This was the week I had been waiting for, yet was terrified for throughout this journey. I remember when Nick came to my hometown of Dallas and how that really deepened my relationship with him. I felt like I was really falling for him after my family’s approval, and so I knew how impactful these hometown visits could be for these four men.

Going to each hometown, I knew everything about these remaining relationships was about to change … for better or for worse. I was about to explore the people, places and pasts that shaped these wonderful men. I was going to get a sneak peek into what starting a future family of our own might look like.

My first stop was Baltimore to meet the family and neighborhood that challenged Eric to become the motivated man he is today. From some of our earlier conversations, Eric had been forthright about the difficulties he faced growing up in a neighborhood plagued by poverty and crime. While he’s not the first black man I’ve dated from this kind of background, Eric is the first man I’ve dated that has drawn so much motivation from overcoming the pitfalls that come with that setting.

Eric took me to the basketball court where he learned to play basketball. As we were there, I witnessed locals who hadn’t seen him for years greet him with profound respect. After chatting with his cousin Ralph it was clear Eric was somewhat of a legend in the neighborhood. Someone who the locals looked up to … someone who made it!

Later, which you guys didn’t see, he took me to his former grade school. I got to watch him interact with the young boys’ basketball team and his old coach. I saw Eric at his best, most passionate self, helping and motivating the next generation. It was these moments and the day we had that made me appreciate and gain so much more respect for Eric.

I always wondered where Eric got his seemingly endless supply of energy. Walking into his Aunt Verna’s home it became very clear it ran in the family! I was aware that Eric’s father was not in picture much during his childhood and that he had issues with his mother’s tough love approach to raising him. Yet seeing Eric and his family laugh, cry and smile around the dinner table with such warmth was a nod to how strong and beautiful a family unit Eric comes from.

I also really enjoyed discussing the topic of being the first black Bachelorette with his Aunt Verna, who is also a lawyer. I’ve been asked dozens of times by the press, “What is it like being the first black Bachelorette?” but the conversation I had with Aunt Verna came from someone who already had insight into the struggles that come with a black woman in the spotlight and could relate in ways no one else had with me before.

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What really shocked me was how much of changed man Eric seemed to be in the eyes of his relatives. I knew Eric had never brought a woman home to meet his family or been in love for that matter. I knew he had relaxed and found his rhythm with me since the beginning of our relationship. But I had no idea I had this kind of effect on him. I won’t lie, I was definitely scared to be the first woman Eric could fall in love with — even if his family thinks the change is positive.

When Eric walked me out at the end of night and dropped the word “love” in three different sentiments when saying goodbye, he had used so many qualifiers that I didn’t really know if he was in love with me or if just had love for me. Those are two very different things. I remember thinking, maybe since Eric’s never said it to a woman before he doesn’t know how or maybe he’s just not there yet with me. It still felt great to hear, but was something I would need clarity on eventually.

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My next stop was Bryan’s hometown of Miami. Miami is a perfect reflection of our relationship … hot, passionate, multi-dimensional — and sometimes in Spanish. I’d been to Miami before but walking through Calle Ocho with Bryan showed me a whole different side of the city. I love that he took me to play dominos at Domino Park. Dominos is one of my favorite games and I could totally see us as an old couple coming to the park and playing every weekend. Maybe by then we’d be good enough to beat those guys more than once.

When we sat and cooled down with some mojitos after cutting up the salsa dance floor I started getting nervous about meeting his family. I wanted them to like me so bad and it didn’t help he described his mom as a “fireball.”

Luckily, the moment I sat down with Bryan’s family I found that although Mom was a fireball, it was in the best way possible. I felt welcomed by his family even while his mom threatened my life! I appreciated the love she has for her son. I also liked talking to his cousin to whom he is very close and hearing that she had never in all their years together seen him this clearly invested in a woman. The chemistry we had was just as apparent to his family as it was to us. After a great evening with his family, he professed that he was in love with me. In that moment I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it would feel to hear that for the rest of my life.

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My next stop was in Peter’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. I couldn’t believe this journey took me back to Wisconsin, but Peter and Nick couldn’t be more different.

My day started with the cutest thing. I was waiting for Peter in the park and he had a local come find me and hand deliver a date card he had written for me. I loved that our relationship led Peter to tap into his creative and artistic side that had been neglected for the past few years. As he led me through the Madison farmer’s market, I realized that this down-to-earth life could be the balance I’d been looking for. Peter’s calmness really compliments my free-spirited soul.

Something you guys didn’t see was the moment I started to think Madison just might be the highest rate of Bachelor Nation fans per capita thanks to what started out as a small crowd of fans following us through the market and eventually turned into a full-on mob by the time we got the whisky bar. I think there were mostly ladies following us, and they were definitely more interested in meeting handsome Peter than myself — and I couldn’t blame them one bit. I mean, come on, look at him!

Meeting Peter’s friends for drinks was nice surprise. I had kind of rolled my eyes and chuckled when he told me eight out of 10 of his friends were black a week ago, but sitting across from the two couples actually was a window into what life with Peter in Madison could look like. Honestly, it sounded great. I loved meeting his friends and it made me so much more excited to meet his family.

His household was everything I would expect from a warm and welcoming Midwestern family. The only moment that evening that took me by surprise was his mother’s statement that she did not think that Peter was ready for a proposal at the end of this journey. I started becoming concerned Peter may not be able be totally open to the notion that this journey could take our relationship to place where he would want to propose in the next few weeks and now his mom was saying it wasn’t necessary.

Embarking on this journey, I was looking for something different. I did not come all this way and make these sacrifices to have a boyfriend at the end of all of this. I was looking for some thing deeper and I am looking to find that with someone who wants that same thing as me. At the end of the evening, Peter reassured me he was closer than ever to being in love, but he was not there yet. Although there is something about the sentiment with which Peter says and does the small things with me that tells me he’s closer to it than he’s letting on, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous he’d never get there.

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The week ended in Aspen, Colorado, Dean’s hometown. I may live in the city but a lot of my extended family is from the Louisiana countryside, so when Dean surprised me with an ATV ride I was ready to show him my country side. As playful as the day was I could sense Dean’s anxiety when we chatted about his family. It was clear Dean didn’t just lose his mom when he was a teenager, he lost the support of his whole family. It seemed like an issue that they had yet to address in over a decade. Dean made it clear he wasn’t introducing me to his family to show me the people he loves the most, he wanted to show me the dysfunction that he had been avoiding. Luckily, on the way to the family home we were able to have a couple drinks with his friends whom he considers family and I was able to see Dean light up and flash that smile that would make any girl melt.

I think Dean expected me to be shocked and uncomfortable walking into his father Pararoomp’s home and finding the entire family sitting Indian-style and shoeless on the floor. He was way off, I found it totally welcoming and comforting. I’ve said it before that I’m a free spirit and environments like this I find hospitable. From the gong cleansing ceremony to the homemade daal, I felt well within my comfort zone.

Speaking with Dean’s sister Sky really was the most insight I got into how Dean’s past played out and how the family handled the tragedy. She spoke of how incredibly strong Dean was while she and the other members of the family had been weak. At a time when Dean needed them the most, it seemed they were busy grieving in their own way. She also touched on how their father had not been there for the kids following their mother’s death and how she had to confront him to start the long process of healing their relationship.

Watching back now, I realize just how bravely Dean had confronted his father that night regarding their absence in each other’s lives. I was saddened to hear from him that his dad walked away from their conversation much liked he had walked away from the conversation I tried having with him. Some people just have a really hard time facing their past and believe that walking away is akin to not dwelling on it. I really think Dean’s father saying him not supporting Dean actually benefited Dean in the long run is what really sent Dean emotionally over the edge.

In comforting Dean after at the end of the night, we ended up sharing our love for each other. In the moment, it was honestly how much I cared for him and that made the rose ceremony in Dallas that much more difficult.

I cried on the entire flight to Dallas, and I cried all day leading up to it. I didn’t want to make a decision, I wanted to run and just go home and never have to break another heart again. But when my tears dried I realized that, while I do feel a love for Dean, I’m just not sure he’s in a place in his life where he’s ready to settle down and start a family in the near future.

Through this journey, Dean learned a lot about himself and a lot about love … and he learned those things through our relationship. I still think he’s figuring himself and his feelings out. It was a tough goodbye — he was defensive, confused and a bit angry. I know that sometimes at first being angry is easier to stomach than allowing yourself to be sad. I prayed that night the he wasn’t leaving this relationship believing I judged him based on meeting his family. I only judged him on if he was ready for the same things I am.

As anxious as I seemed going to visit these guys’ hometowns, next week I’ll be taking them into my family’s home and it is just as nerve-racking. My father may be the judge, but the rest of my family can be just as intimidating. You’ll be surprised who they like, who they question and who I have to stick up for. Three men walk into my home and only two leave with a blessing for marriage.

At this stage in my journey, the goodbyes will only get harder. Sending Dean home in Dallas was just about one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve had in my life, but nothing will compare to the soul-wrenching goodbye I have in Spain. This journey is coming to a close, and while I sit here and write to you all a happy engaged woman — it was not an easy road to get here. So see you guys next week, things are about to get REAL!

Love always,

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

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