Jillian Harris and Ed Swiderski both thought they were too cool to fall in love on a reality show. "We're the people we used to make fun of," laughs Swiderski, as he tenderly strokes fiancée Harris, who is snuggled up in his lap while they share an oversize armchair. "The people announcing they are in love and want to get married." But that's exactly what happened to The Bachelorette
star Harris, who, on the show's July 27 Hawaii finale, finally declared her love for the last man standing (and then proposing on bended knee), Swiderski. Says Harris: "It's such a contradiction to have something so normal come from something so manic."
But now she wouldn't have it any other way. The Vancouver-based restaurant designer, 29, was thrilled to accept Swiderski's proposal, along with a $60,000 custom designed platinum and diamond Neil Lane ring (she chose him over business developer Kiptyn Locke, 31, and, in a surprise last-minute reappearance, Reid Rosenthal, 30). "We just got one another, and he had the same dry sense of humor my dad always had," she says. "I saw him in my future forever."
Yet their happy Hawaiian ending almost didn't happen. Five weeks into the competition, Swiderski, 30, a Chicago computer software consultant, abruptly announced that he was feeling pressure from his employer and had to leave the show. "I didn't know how much I would be devastated," says Harris, who tearfully mourned his departure with a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a box of tissues. Swiderski, 30, also shed tears on the long plane ride home, while listening to Celine Dion as "an homage to Canada and my feelings," he says.
Despite the bounty of potential suitors that remained, it was the "emotional connection" she had made with the handsome Midwesterner that Harris couldn't forget. After he sorted out his job issues, Swiderski returned. But then things hit a speed bump when the pair shared a disastrous date at an overnight fantasy suite in the July 13 episode. Romance fizzled when the lights went out—and both emerged the next morning looking frustrated and upset.
So what really happened that night? "It was a culmination of being sunburned, exhausted," says Swiderski. "She was asking about my past relationships, and there's 19 camera guys. It was about 90° in there." Says Harris: "It was not sexy." But it sure is now: "The romance is there. There aren't any bedroom problems now!"
Harris faced her final obstacle when Rosenthal (see box) suddenly showed up during the finale, ring in hand. "Reid is standing there telling me these things," she says, "and I thought, it doesn't really matter what he says, I'm madly in love with Ed."
Now that the finale has aired, the couple—who spent the last couple months secretly dating in L.A.—are excited to go public and start planning their wedding, which will likely take place next year. First, Harris will relocate to Chicago with Swiderski. "We hate being away from each other," she says. "I love this guy. I want to be with him as much as possible."