The former Bachelor proposed to girlfriend Jessica Clarke on Friday evening, ET exclusively confirms. As Higgins told ET's Lauren Zima, he had been planning his proposal for months, but "everything changed" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Generous Coffee co-founder was planning to pop the question in New York City, where he and Becca Kufrin were set to stop on their The Bachelor: Live on Stage tour. With the coronavirus outbreak, however, the tour was put on hold -- forcing Higgins to plan a different proposal.
Higgins and Clarke have been quarantining together with his parents, but drove to Franklin, Tennessee, on Friday so they could be with her family for the proposal. Higgins told Clarke they were just going to see her family, who secretly knew about his plans. Higgins knew his girlfriend would love having her family be a part of the special moment.
"I went back to a pond behind her house, and we had set it up with sunflowers near a bench. It's right in their backyard, but a little hidden. I proposed and her family and mine were watching from a distance, and then we all celebrated together," Higgins revealed during their first interview since getting engaged.
"I was super nervous. She's my best friend, my partner and I love her. I was nervous to kind of do this whole thing in front of her," he confessed. "I wasn't anxious, it's just a big moment!"
Higgins started tearing up before he even reached the proposal spot, causing Clarke to cry too. "She said it was one of two things: either I was ending our relationship, which would have been a huge shock... or I was proposing," he revealed.
"I still just can't believe it," said Clarke -- who almost upended Higgins' proposal for a second time, after telling him she didn't want to go for a walk and "get sweaty" before dinner. (Thankfully, he was able to convince her.)
"This is exactly how I would have wanted it to be," she gushed. "Central Park would have been magical and special in its own way. But it's really cool that we just got to be together last night and not really have to talk to anyone else but my family. It was great. It was perfect. I couldn't imagine it a better way."
Higgins designed the ring for about three months with the help of Gnat Jewelers in Denver, Colorado, trying to match what Clarke had told him and her mom about the ring she had "dreamed of."
"I got the ring like, two days before we came to [Tennessee], so that was a stresser on me," he admitted. "I'm pretty happy with it. It took a lot of work and big team effort."
While dating someone in the spotlight could have been intimidating, Clarke wasn't too phased by it. "Ben always makes fun of me, because before we told anyone we were dating, I was like, 'I don't understand why we can't tell people. It's not that big of a deal.' I didn't understand at all," she said. "And then as we've progressed, it doesn't really feel that strange to me, because he's still my guy and my person. We have our own life and relationship."
"There's just an audience, but I don't really realize it sometimes. I probably should be more cognizant," Clarke added with a laugh. "I just don't really think about it."
"She's right. There is this outside world that is a part of our life. I kind of threw us both into it, because I started sharing my journey years ago, but it doesn't affect our day-to-day life very often," Higgins chimed in. "And she's been accepted into the family too. The Bachelor family has been really great to her, including Chris [Harrison]."
Though things didn't work out for Higgins on The Bachelor -- he and Lauren Bushnell split in 2017 -- he didn't give up on finding love. To him, Clarke represents a "new chapter."
"I've shared some ups and downs. …But now it's time for a new chapter, and I think that excites me," he told ET. "It's a chapter for me to have a lot of peace when it comes to romantic love, a lot of confidence in our partnership and who we are to each other, and kind of to start a chapter of no more tears and no more heartbreak. I'm not going to break this girl's heart and I know she's not going to break mine. It's time to start a new, more confident journey forward."
As for how Higgins knew Clarke was the one, he said she just fit his "feeling of what I thought love was supposed to be -- euphoria and overwhelming."
"When I met her, that’s how it was," he gushed, noting that after that initial excitement wore off, "I just fell in love with her more." "She makes me a better man and enhances every aspect of my life. We are each other's biggest fans. I would give my life for her."
Clarke, meanwhile, knew Higgins was the man she wanted to marry after the pair's trip to Honduras last year. He has made many service trips to the country with Humanity & Hope.
"We had only been dating for like, two months, but that was the first time I really saw him lead other people and love other people that we didn't even hardly know," she explained. "He's always been challenging to me, and helping me become the person I want to be to others. And seeing him in that environment, I knew it then, and that feeling's never gone away."
"It's an easy yes with her. In thinking of committing to my life with her, there’s no anxiousness," Higgins said.