"There is so much weird heaviness and pain right now, this feels like an uplifting thing," Ben Higgins tells PEOPLE of his engagement to Jessica Clarke

By Aili Nahas
March 30, 2020 04:43 PM
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Ben Higgins admits he almost gave away his surprise proposal to girlfriend Jessica Clarke on Friday.

“I started crying before we even got to the place where I was going to propose,” says the former Bachelor, who asked Clarke to marry him near the pond behind her family’s home in Franklin, Tennessee. “I was so nervous and it was really emotional. So then she started crying, not knowing why I was crying! But then I told her why I loved her and asked her to marry me. She was so shocked!”

Higgins, 31, has been dating Clarke, 24, since 2018 after he “slid into her DM’s” on social media. He says he initially had different plans for the proposal.

“I had big plans to do this in Central Park while we were there for the [Bachelor Live] tour on March 21,” he explains. But once coronavirus and subsequent social distancing made that an impossibility, “we ended up in Franklin and I just thought, ‘Why not?’ And I would have been so stressed out if this landed three more months with this ring in my pocket!”

Ultimately, “it worked out for the best” Higgins says. “Her whole family was there and it was so special and quiet.”

And for Higgins, who also hosts the Almost Famous podcast with Ashley Iaconetti Haibon, the fact that he designed Clarke’s ring (with GNAT Jewelers in Denver) added a tiny element of nerves.

“Jess’ mom sent me a picture of the ring Jess loved, so I tried to recreate that but also make it my own so that she had something unique,” Higgins says. “It was incredibly intimidating but also super personal, and she loved it!”

RELATED VIDEO: Ben Higgins Says His ‘Life Is Only Better’ with Girlfriend Jessica Clarke ‘In It’

And while getting engaged during a time of uncertainty wasn’t his grand plan, Higgins says he’s grateful for moments of levity.

“There is so much weird heaviness and pain right now, this feels like an uplifting thing,” he says. “As painful as this has all been, you can’t let it stop life. So for us to have something to be able to celebrate, it was the right thing at the right time.”

And the couple are looking forward to a joyful future together.

“I’ve known I wanted to marry Jess for a long time,” Higgins says. “And I’m really happy.”