He had no choice.
That’s Jason Mesnick‘s explanation for publicly dumping his fiancee, Bachelor winner Melissa Rycroft, in favor of runner-up Molly Malaney on Monday night’s finale.
Jason says he would have preferred to have delivered the news to Rycroft off camera.
“There were things I needed to tell her in person and I was not allowed to see her. That was part of the deal. I signed up for it in my contract. Your relationship is — good and bad — in front of everybody,” says Mesnick, who talked exclusively to PEOPLE about the surprising turn of events.
“If I could have, I would have seen Melissa the night before. It killed me. It kills me now.”
The single dad, 32, proposed to an overjoyed Melissa, 25, in the two-hour finale. But on After the Final Rose, which was shot six weeks later, he gave her the boot and confessed he still had feelings for Molly, 24, who agreed to give him another chance. Mesnick, who was rejected by DeAnna Pappas on The Bacherlotte last year, says he knows what Bachelor viewers must think of him: ” ‘That guy is a jerk.’ But I’m not proud of what I had to do.”
Soon after The Bachelor‘s cameras stopped rolling, the euphoria of his engagement to Melissa began to fade. “After we got back into the real world, all of a sudden, we had less to talk about and I didn’t know why. I started thinking wow, what’s happening? Why aren’t we communicating the way we did when the show was going on?” says Jason, who held off on sharing his doubts with Melissa.
“I didn’t say something right away because I wanted to figure out what was going in inside of me,” he says. “There was part of me that wanted things to work out with Melissa so bad. But the whole other piece was I had these crazy feelings for Molly.”
Finally, Jason says, he could not deny the truth: “Melissa and I just have different ways of communicating. We’re not right for each other.” — Monica Rizzo
For much more from Jason, and what Melissa has to say about his sudden about-face, don’t miss this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands FridayKwaku Alston/Stockland Martel