“The Bachelorette” returns on Monday, with Becca Kufrin as its star. But the Bachelor Nation characters getting the most attention these days are Ashley Iaconetti (a.k.a. Ashley I.) and Jared Haibon, who first met in 2015 but took three years to become a couple.
For a franchise that’s all about conjuring up romance at lightning-speed, hearing how two characters fell in love in slow motion is fascinating, at times infuriating, and, overall, far more realistic than what viewers see on a reality show. And even though neither has been the star of a Bachelor show, there’s precedent for franchise alums pairing off.
The video of Ashley I. and Jared telling the story of how they got together is meandering, frustrating but also sweet. If you don’t have 44 minutes to watch, here are the CliffsNotes of their relationship.
Before they met IRL, Ashley and Jared noticed one another on television or in the media.
In 2015 Ashley first appeared on Chris Soules’s season of “The Bachelor,” which Jared was watching because there was possibility that he might be going on Kaitlyn Bristowe’s 2015 season of “The Bachelorette.” “I remember seeing you get out of the limo,” Jared recalls, “and thinking you were hot.” Ashley was eliminated in week six of “The Bachelor,” and Jared did compete on Kaitlyn Bristowe’s season of “The Bachelorette.” When Kaitlyn’s season was being filmed, but before it aired, Ashley noticed Jared in some paparazzi shots and was intrigued: “I was like, ‘Okay, who is that guy?’ ” A few weeks later, Ashley went to a taping of a date on Kaitlyn’s season, where Ashley giddily asked the producers, “Where’s Jared? Where’s Jared?” He wasn’t there, but she got to see two episodes of Kaitlyn’s season that aired before Ashley flew down to Mexico be part of the cast for season two of “Bachelor in Paradise.”
During the summer of 2015, Ashley and Jared were both contestants on “Bachelor in Paradise.”
That’s right, they’ve been on two seasons of the steamy summer spinoff together. When they first met, Ashley says it was “love at first sight,” while Jared couldn’t see himself with someone as emotional as Ashley. “It was a slow build for me,” Jared says of their relationship. He’s been with “very composed women,” Ashley said. Ashley and Jared did go on a few dates that summer in Paradise — a ride in a dune buggy and an overnight. Jared remembers being very “comfortable” with Ashley but dumped her twice that season. When Ashley told her sister and her best friends about the split, they didn’t believe it would stick. “It’s definitely not over,” Ashley recalls them saying. “We can feel it’s definitely not over.”
They slowly become friends over the summer and fall of 2015.
After their stint in paradise, Ashley and Jared became friends, and in the fall of 2015, Jared flew to Virginia with a group of other Bachelor alums for a charity event Ashley is running. This is when he realized he had feelings for her, he says in their video, but he didn’t act on them. “I was total boss woman, and Jared wasn’t my focal point,” Ashley remembers. “I was putting together these two events. He got to see me being in my comfort zone, being at home with my family.”
That is the point when a switch flips for Jared. “It’s such a different experience, being with somebody in the show and then in real life. That charity event was the first time I saw you in your element, with your family and your friends, and on the East Coast,” he recalls. “I related to you a lot more and you were just so down-to-earth and easygoing and you were ambitious and you were working hard that weekend and you looked sexy.”
From the way Jared looked at her that night, Ashley knew something was different. And yet, nothing happened. “I knew I had all the time in the world,” she remembers.
They continued being friends — he would stay with her in Los Angeles a lot; she went to an event he was having in Boston — sending flirtatious texts and enjoying the occasional make-out session, but they were never quite together. Why? Because of Jared’s indecision about what he wanted. “I was in a very confused place,” Jared recalls. He wants to stay just friends, he says, “because at least it gives you the opportunity to really date other people and not have any expectations of us.”
And yet, he sends her flowers and makes her a music video for her birthday.
During the summer of 2016, they both go back on “Bachelor in Paradise.”
Ashley arrived mid-season in “Paradise,” and by this time Jared was already dating Caila Quinn, a contestant from Ben Higgins’s season of “The Bachelor.” Ashley was cast as being obsessed with Jared, and it doesn’t work for them this time, either. He tried to persuade her to date other people — and she did, but none of them stuck. When Caila left, Jared and Ashley had a heart-to-heart where it seems like he does have feelings for her. Afterward, she declared to the camera that they will be together someday: “This is what romance novels are made of: Girl likes guy who doesn’t like her. And then comes running back when the other object of his affection goes elsewhere.” Despite Ashley’s determination, her friends kept telling her she needed to move on and “get a grip on reality,” Ashley recalls.
They continue being friends for a year.
After their second time in Paradise, Ashley recalls that she and Jared had “so many arguments that summer,” while Jared “went into a dark hole,” she says, noting that they would still spend time together — and he would still stay with her in Los Angeles — but that he seemed withdrawn around her.
“I feel like you don’t like being around me anymore,” Ashley recalls of this period in their lukewarm friendship.
“It wasn’t that at all. You’re the person I like being around most,” Jared counters.
Meanwhile, Jared’s family and friends would tell Ashley: “We’ve never seen Jared happier than when he’s with you.”
And yet, they still weren’t together.
In late 2017, Ashley goes on “Bachelor Winter Games” and Jared goes on “Bachelor World” in Australia.
As Ashley is about to leave for the “Winter Games” spinoff, she gets a text from Jared, saying: “Try not to think about me too much during Winter Games.” She must have made good on that, because she did meet someone — Kevin Wendt, a former contestant from Canada’s “Bachelorette” show — and they left Winter Games as an item. Meanwhile, Jared went on a “Bachelor in Paradise”-type show in Australia but left after deciding he doesn’t have strong enough connection with anyone there. When he heard that Ashley had met someone on Winter Games, he says that was the push he needed to tell Ashley how he felt, even though he realizes it’s a jerk move to finally say something.
In January 2018, a small group of “Bachelor” alums went to St. Lucia.
Now Jared knew Ashley is seeing someone, but they had yet to talk about it. Jared, Ashley, Ashley’s sister, Jade Roper and Tanner Tolbert had planned a group vacation to St. Lucia before Kevin was in the picture. At this point, Jared was pondering what to do. “It’s so unfair for me to say anything,” he recalls thinking at the time. “Ashley goes on a show, finds another guy and NOW I’m going to say something?”
Tanner, whom Ashley and Jared fondly call their “Fairy Godfather,” gave Jared a nudge to tell Ashley how he feels. “You need to give her the opportunity to let her know how you feel and let her make up her own mind,” Jared remembers Tanner saying. And so he did, and Ashley was appropriately annoyed. “Now? You’re telling me this now?” she recalled, adding that she was going to continue dating Kevin. Jared says he understood and that he’d be waiting for her. They shared a passionate goodbye kiss, and Ashley went back to her relationship with Kevin. “I did not cheat on Kevin,” she says in the video. “I ended the relationship, because it had run its course.”
And finally, three years after that “love at first sight” moment in Paradise, when Jared wasn’t interested, they’re now together. “It’s pretty messy,” Ashley says to the camera, “but it’s also the purest, best love story I think I’ve ever heard.”