The former 'Bachelor' thought it was 'the right thing to do' at the time.
Ben Higgins shared more than any Bachelor had before when he said "I love you" to both of his final two women, JoJo Fletcher and Lauren Bushnell -- and looking back at his 2016 season, he realizes that was a big mistake. In an interview with ET's Lauren Zima on Monday, Higgins said he wishes he never expressed his love to Fletcher.
The Almost Famous podcast host's season of The Bachelor aired in a three-hour episode on Monday night's The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons -- Ever! Watching his love confession to Fletcher, Higgins said he "felt pain."
"I wish I would not have done that," he told ET.
"I was sorry for JoJo watching it back ... in the moment, the damage was done. I was sorry that I did that to somebody," Higgins shared. "My intentions were good. I really do believe that my intentions were to make everybody know that just how much I cared."
Even moments before his proposal to Bushnell, Higgins was discussing how much he could see himself married to Fletcher.
"I really thought it was the right thing to do. I really thought telling JoJo just how much I cared would have allowed her as she went home to go, 'This was really hard and I know how tough this was and I'm going to be OK. But this was a real thing.' I thought that at the time," he revealed. "It wasn't a smart decision, it wasn't wise. It wasn't, like, a good thing I did. But that was my intention."
Higgins was the first Bachelor to say "I love you" to two women on the show -- but he didn't want to be the second Bachelor to pull a switcheroo, and try to pursue a relationship with his runner-up. So, even though he loved Fletcher, he abandoned those feelings once he got down on one knee and proposed to Bushnell.
"As soon as I got down on one knee, then I was committing to the person that I had asked to marry me. That's why I didn't do the whole switcheroo. That's why you didn't see me communicate with JoJo after the season was aired. I was saying, 'Hey, I'm focusing on this relationship because I think it's the one that's going to work,'" he said. " [Other Bachelors have] switched back to the person that they let go home, saying, 'Hey, I could have married both.' ... I just said it. For that, I'm sorry."
Things didn't work out between Higgins and Bushnell, who announced their split in May 2017, just over a year after his season finale of The Bachelor aired. Though Higgins' love confession to Fletcher was something he had to overcome in his relationship with Bushnell, the Generous Coffee co-founder said he really did leave his feelings for Fletcher in the past.
"I really did set up boundaries... clear mental, like, 'This is it, this is done, the show is over. I'm moving on, this is where we're going.' I don't remember any moment of going, 'Oh, I am confused or conflicted.' It was, 'I'm investing into this relationship because this is what I chose,'" he recalled. "And I'm proud of myself for that. I think it was a big deal."
Higgins is now engaged to Jessica Clarke, whom he proposed to in March. Bushnell married musician Chris Lane last fall, and Fletcher is set to say "I do" to fiancé Jordan Rodgers, whom she met on The Bachelorette. The couple was supposed to tie the knot earlier this month, but postponed their nuptials due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Being with Clarke has allowed Higgins to see the difference between the love he feels for her and the love he felt for Fletcher and Bushnell.
"Jessica knows this -- I still say like, 'I love JoJo and I love Lauren.' They are past relationships, and like with girlfriends from high school, if they needed something, I would text them like, 'Hey, you know I love you. I will do whatever I can for you if within the context of a healthy relationship that we can have now or friendships that I have,'" Higgins shared. "So, there's still that deep, like, desire to do whatever I could."
"If Lauren called me tomorrow and said, 'Ben, I need your help,' I would tell Jessica, 'Hey, Lauren reached out to me. This is what she's asking help with. Can I help her?' I know Jessica's response would be, 'Yes, you should do whatever you can to help her if it's healthy,'" he continued. "Same with JoJo, same with any of those women. They gave up a lot to be on that season and I have a deep respect and a deep care for that. But romantically, there's no love there anymore."
"Looking back, maybe at the time, but it wasn't a love that would have lasted," Higgins revealed. "I have that now, and I know what that feels like."
See more on Higgins in the video below. The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons -- Ever! airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.