Kenny Barnes says his experience on Love Is Blind "allowed me to become more in tune with myself and what I wanted in a partner"

By Benjamin VanHoose
August 18, 2020 03:13 PM
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Kenny Barnes and Alexandra Garrison
@robyndawnphotos

Kenny Barnes has found his person, post–Love Is Blind!

On Aug. 7, the 28-year-old reality star proposed to girlfriend Alexandra Garrison at Duke Mansion in Charlotte, North Carolina, after dating a little over one year, he reveals exclusively to PEOPLE. The pair met after Barnes' appearance on the Netflix dating series, which was filmed in fall 2018.

Barnes got down on one knee and proposed with a four-carat emerald center stone ring from Diamonds Direct Jewelers.

"She would tell you that she had an idea, but I would describe it as wishful thinking. I kept it a secret and definitely handled her questioning in the months leading up to our moment to keep her off my trail," Barnes says of planning his proposal.

Kenny Barnes and Alexandra Garrison
@robyndawnphotos
Alexandra Garrison's engagement ring
@robyndawnphotos

The Netflix star initially had plans to propose at a different location, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, he was forced to tweak his proposal. "I had organized plans to propose at The Biltmore Estate (our first date) but the vacation fell through in response to COVID-19 restrictions," he says.

But Barnes and Garrison have chosen to "take advantage" of the pandemic-affected delays to plan their wedding. "So many events have been delayed, canceled or pushed to 2021 or 2022, so we figure that this will allow us to plan everything out and see how COVID-19 continues to evolve," he says.

The two were introduced by Barnes'  younger sister Anna and dated long-distance for the first three months of their relationship. "Alexandra and Anna had been friends for nearly three years while living in Charlotte and when I came to town to help move Anna, I met Alexandra at the brewery, Wooden Robot," Barnes recalls. "What's funny is that there was apparently an 'inside joke' among their friends that Alexandra should date me. Alexandra knew who I was during that entire three-year period, but since we lived in separate cities and had never met, there was never an opportunity to entertain anything."

Kenny Barnes and Alexandra Garrison
@robyndawnphotos
Kenny Barnes and Alexandra Garrison
@robyndawnphotos

How did he know she was the one?

"There are definitely moments in the early stages of our relationship where the thought crossed my mind, but the moment that sticks out most is when she and I stayed up looking at the stars during a summertime trip to Lake Gaston," he says. "We talked for at least six hours and ended up falling asleep on the couch upstairs. It was then that I knew we were on the same page and that we were meant to be."

Reflecting back on his time on Love Is Blind, Barnes says: "It was physically and emotionally draining but allowed me to become more in tune with myself and what I wanted in a partner. The most important thing I learned was how to honor and love the things that truly make me happy. To take those things and, instead of catering to someone out of convenience, find someone that truly has your best interest in mind to share it with."

Kenny Barnes and Alexandra Garrison
@robyndawnphotos

Barnes became engaged to Kelly Chase on Love Is Blind, which tasks its participants with building a connection without coming face-to-face with their partner, proposing sight-unseen. Chase, in the finale, said "I don't," leaving Barnes at the altar.

"I chose to be single for nearly a year after filming ended," he says. "Part of that was out of necessity to allow myself to get back into my foundation and the structure that enables me to accomplish what I desire. The other part was that I feared bringing someone into the unknown which was the release of the show. At the time of filming, no one knew when the show would be released, how it would be formatted and, honestly, how any of us would be portrayed. We had a really good idea, but there is no control over editing and usage of content to either present or withhold context."

Kelly Chase and Kenny Barnes on Love Is Blind
Netflix

Ex-fiancée Chase told him at the time: “I really do care about you and I do love you. And I know I love the person that you are — and I am so happy for you. And I know that everything happens for a reason, and it did work out the way it was supposed to.”

After Love Is Blind aired, Barnes told PEOPLE the experience made him "really focus on the things that matter."

“I wanted to get back to my roots, so I committed the next seven, eight months of just self-improvement, and it ended up putting me in a position to be truly open and to respect someone and know that there are people out there who are willing to meet you in the middle," he told PEOPLE in March. "They want to love you just as much as you want to love them. And that’s been a beautiful thing for me, and I would not be there today without this experience.”