Ben Higgins Confronts the Woman He Loved and Had to Let Go on The Bachelor: After the Final Rose: 'A Piece of My Life Is Now Gone'

03/14/2016 AT 11:10 PM EDT

The Bachelor EXCLUSIVE! Bachelor Ben Higgins opens up about why fiancée Lauren Bushnell "was always the one" and the decision he regrets the most. Subscribe now for all their wedding plan details plus exclusive photos, only in PEOPLE!

Facing an ex for the first time after a breakup is never easy, but having that reunion play out on live television? That's a whole different ball game.

On Monday, The Bachelor's Ben Higgins did just that on After the Final Rose, the live after show directly following the dramatic season finale – and it was definitely tense.

Warning: If you haven't seen Monday's episode of The Bachelor, stop reading now to avoid spoilers.



After sending JoJo Fletcher home in a heart-wrenching elimination (and then proposing to finalist Lauren Bushnell!), Higgins, 26, sat down face-to-face with his runner-up on for the first time since their breakup, which was filmed several months ago.

RELATED VIDEO: The Bachelor Finale Chat: JoJo's Bathroom Breakdown


First, host Chris Harrison sat down with Higgins to find out how he feels looking back on the experience now.

"I don't regret the feelings I had," Higgins said of the fact that he openly told both Fletcher and Bushnell he loved them on the show. "It makes your mind go in a hundred different places. … I knew that I wanted to make a commitment to one of them forever – that's a really hard pill to swallow, but I'm glad I did."

As for whether he regrets dropping the "L" bomb with both women, Higgins said: "It led me to Lauren, and I can't regret that."

But that final Rose Ceremony? It wasn't easy.

"[Watching it back] makes my stomach hurt," Higgins said. "This experience is full of a lot of goodbyes and that goodbye was one that hit hard."

"I mean, [facing Fletcher] won't be easy but at the same time I have lot of respect for her," he added. "She's not someone that I'm nervous or scared to see but it's hard because those are real feelings."

Then, the moment we were all waiting for arrived and out came Fletcher. The two hugged and sat back down on the couch together.

"It's good to see you," Fletcher said first, adding: "I'm really nervous."

"Well, so am I," Higgins said.

The two then agreed that watching their painful breakup unfold on television was "really hard."

"I will never regret having you as a part of my life," Higgins told Fletcher. "That experience will be marked as something that was really hard for me forever. ... It's weird to even be sitting here. It's like you sit here, and you try to explain yourself to somebody – and I did, I cared about you and I always will. There's no hard feelings and I hope you know that on my side. When you left in that car – a piece of my life is now gone."

Fletcher, meanwhile, said that being able to see how distraught Higgins was after sending her home helped her.

"I mean, it was gut-wrenching watching that. That was tough," she said. "But I feel like it helped me to see that it was hard for you, too."

Harrison then asked Higgins where his feelings for Fletcher stand now.

"I mean, like I said, I have a lot of respect for her as person. I appreciate her in this experience with me, that hasn't been taken away," he said. "It wasn't your fault, it wasn't my fault. It wasn't the best outcome in end, it doesn't mean that I have any less respect for you."

But Harrison pressed on, questioning Higgins and whether he was "still in love" with Fletcher.

"Well, you know, I think my life has moved on in a way that's been the best for me," Higgins said. "Do I care about her? Yes, but I'm at a place now in my life that that experience is distant because I am now committed to one person."

Harrison then turned to Fletcher, asking her what watching his relationship with Bushnell play out has been like for her.

"I remember that day and when you sent me home you kind of just left me with: 'I'm still in love with you, you're my best friend,' … so those days and those weeks that followed that's all I had to think about and I was trying to understand what went wrong," Fletcher said. "And then watching the season back and seeing your connection with Lauren, it was so early on and it really did help me understand why you chose her in the end."

She did, however, have one question for her ex: When did he finally make his pick between the two women – because, as the finale showed, he was torn up until the very last moment.

"You will always be one of the best things about my past, but on that last day as I stood there ... and that morning I couldn't picture my life without Lauren," Higgins said. "I just couldn't. As much as my feelings were maybe in two different places I knew that for the rest of my life I wanted my feelings to be in one place, and that was with Lauren."

And at the end of the day, there's no bad blood on either side – In fact, Fletcher and Bushnell have remained friends.

"I think she's an amazing person and I think the word of you," Fletcher told Higgins. "I think everything happened for a reason and I'm really happy for you guys."

And while Fletcher herself has moved on too, her Bachelor journey is from from over: She's the next Bachelorette!

"She's very deserving," Higgins said. "I'm very excited for her, she's going to do great!"
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