By Romy Oltuski
Updated Oct 09, 2018 @ 11:00 am
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At the Kenneth Cole store in SoHo, Arie Luyendyk Jr. wanders over to me in his socks. I’m tagging along to the Bachelor star’s wedding tux fitting, and in between measurements, he volunteers behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the show. Did I know that every Bachelor gets fitted for 30 made-to-measure suits, but no one gets to keep them? They’re in a warehouse somewhere, begging to be heisted.

The 37-year-old real estate agent and race car driver became a Bachelor franchise villain even before he proposed to finalist Becca Kufrin on national TV and then dumped her for his runner-up, now-fiancée Lauren Burnham, in an excruciating, “unedited” 40-minute segment. So I find his immediate warmth a little surprising. Nowhere in sight is the fumbling caricature whose constant remark to his ladytestants — “I love that” — became an SNL punchline. This Arie is funny, self-deprecating. He’s wondering if anyone here knows how to tie a bow tie? After 30 custom suits for The Bachelor, he doesn’t know how he doesn’t know how.

Another story he thinks I’ll appreciate: When Arie arrived in New York on Sunday night, his suite at the Andaz Hotel was filled with ex-girlfriends. Lauren, 26, had invited her former castmates Jenna Cooper, Seinne Fleming, and Jacqueline Trumbull to join the couple, in town to plan their wedding, for a slumber party. All of these women had kissed Arie not too long ago while competing against Lauren on The Bachelor, but this weekend they reminisced in pajamas while drinking cocktails and trying on wigs. It was girls’ night, and Arie was the fifth wheel.

“It’s not weird at all,” he says, recounting the sleepover, amused. “We’re in such a different place that now, it’s fun to just hang out.”

Courtesy of Kenneth Cole

Arie may have been scorched online after his high-drama season. But in the Bachelor universe, the bad blood seems to have clotted quickly. Several of Arie’s “exes,” including Tia Booth, who made it to the final four, have received wedding invitations, and one, Maquel Cooper, is a bridesmaid. “Once you step outside of the Bachelor bubble, it’s cool to have them there,” he says. “They’re part of the whole story for Lauren and I.”

Plus, he says, they understand one thing that not all viewers do — the power of film editing to exaggerate your shortcomings.

Arie’s partnership with Kenneth Cole is the latest wedding detail that the couple has strategically drip-fed Bachelor Nation in recent weeks: After the very public spectacle of their courtship, they briefly considered eloping but settled on an elegant 120-person ceremony, to take place at the lush Haiku sugar mill in Maui on January 12. They were initially open to televising it until ABC wanted to push the wedding date. “We’re just in love, and Lauren and I want to get married, like, tomorrow,” Arie says. Lauren will be wearing a high-sparkle custom Hayley Paige gown with her hair in some sort of rhinestone-bedazzled mermaid braid. She’s leaning toward white for her bridesmaids. Arie will be wearing a made-to-measure charcoal gray Kenneth Cole Fulton tuxedo with black satin lapels and gifting solid suits to his groomsmen and a surprise officiant (my bet’s on Chris Harrison, who’s preemptively RSVP’ed “yes,” but the couple won’t confirm my hunch). The honeymoon will be a Hawaiian island hop.

After his fitting, Arie and I sit down at the coffee shop next door so he can set some records straight — an understated “one on one,” compared to the over-the-top scenarios I’m used to seeing him in. There’s actually a story behind “I love that,” he says: “It’s kind of funny. You pick up traits of the people you hang out with, and one of my producers always said that — ‘I love that.’ It’s so unlike me, but when I watched the show back, I was like, Wow.” He maintains he didn’t use the phrase as often as the final cut would have you think, but, “Now, I catch myself, and I’m like, No,” he smiles. “Editing is a cruel thing.”

Arie knows the drill from having appeared on Emily Maynard’s season of The Bachelorette in 2012. It’s just that back then, the show painted him as the sweet, genuinely heartbroken runner-up, which reflected how he saw himself. “I feel like I got such a great edit and so many people were behind me,” he says. ABC considered him for the part of the Bachelor several times in the years that followed, passing him over for Sean Lowe (“Hat’s off to that choice”) and again for Chris Soules (“That stung a little bit”). Then Arie was finally greenlit, and you know what happened next: He fell in love with two women.

Arie saw something special in Lauren immediately — even if no one else did. On air, the Dallas-based saleswoman was barely audible. That’s not an unfair assessment, Lauren tells me in a half-hour phone conversation that literally had a higher word count than her lines all season. Some of that geniality was left on the cutting room floor, but she mostly opened up when the cameras weren’t rolling. “I consider myself an extroverted introvert. I’m bubbly and outgoing but get exhausted by the attention, which set me back,” Lauren says. “So the turning point for Arie and I was after overnight dates, when I actually got off-camera time with him.”

By proposal day, Arie was still torn between the two women, but Becca, the vivacious 28-year-old publicist from Minnesota who’d been comfortable with Arie since day one, seemed like the “logical” choice. “There were a lot of unknowns with Lauren because our relationship developed very late,” Arie says. But as soon as he broke up with Lauren, he felt he’d made a mistake. “I remember telling her ‘I love you’ before she got in the car, and thought to myself, What am I doing?

He hoped his doubts would dissipate. They didn’t, and before Arie could fess up to Becca, she caught him liking Lauren’s Instagram posts. The timeline gets murky here, but the couple had an honest conversation, and Arie got Becca’s permission to reach out to Lauren — presumably for closure — which he did on New Year’s Eve. “Oh, I was pissed,” Lauren says. “While we were broken up, he posted a video of these socks I gave him at our overnight. It was like, Ugh, what is he doing?! I hesitated to even talk to him — but, I mean, I’m glad I did.”

Then came the most cringeworthy breakup in Bachelor history. “I knew there was gonna be a huge backlash, but ultimately you can’t live in a relationship that you’re not fully in,” Arie says. He opted to capture the ordeal on film — a move he was widely criticized for — because he didn’t want to leave questions for Becca to have to answer. “I thought that people could relate better if they saw the whole story.” Clearly, he thought the story would look different.

The “unedited” footage of Arie breaking up with Becca and awkwardly lingering in the apartment for 40 minutes while she cried was not only edited but also heavily produced, he wants you to know. “I wanted to leave, and they said, ‘No, go back. You owe her an explanation, so just wait.’” Arie says the producers pitched the segment to him as a redemption story but instead hung him out to dry. “Some days I’m angry; some days I’m like, ‘Well, they had a job to do.’ I can’t be too angry about how this whole thing happened because we’re getting married in January.” A number of producers are invited to the wedding, and Arie even cleared the air with Becca in the Maldives, he says, though the scene wasn’t aired.

In the spring, after getting engaged on the After the Final Rose special, Arie and Lauren packed up her belongings and drove from Lauren’s hometown of Virginia Beach, to Phoenix, Ariz., where they recently bought a house together.

Lauren is eager to fill its bedrooms. “I’m always pushing the baby topic,” she says. “I’m like, ‘I want babies right after we get married!’” Arie is onboard. On April Fools Day, he jumped the gun, joking on Instagram that Lauren “has a bunny in the oven.” His dormant Internet opposition mobilized. “To be honest, I didn’t really think that was a good idea in the first place. But Arie’s Dutch, he’s very blunt, and he thinks that he’s really funny,” Lauren says, at once eye-rolling at her partner and coming to his defense — and all of a sudden, I see them as a real-life, relatable couple.

In Arizona, they’re settling into a routine. “We wake up, take our dogs out, have coffee, and we’re both able to work from home so we spend a lot of time together,” says Lauren, who’d planned to join Arie in real estate but “found it to be extremely boring” and is now designing swimwear she hopes to release next year. Most evenings, they buy groceries together and cook, chatting over a bottle of wine. After traveling to 12 countries this year, they’re happy for more low-key one-on-ones.

The evening of our tux-shopping expedition, Instagram tells me that Arie and Lauren are at a glamorous wedding-industry gala, where top vendors are no doubt wooing them with hors d'oeuvres and chic swag. But the couple winds up leaving early to get Mexican food at a loud restaurant, topping off their looks with with campy sombreros. Lauren shimmies while Arie does a goofy dance, gripping a neatly tied bow-tie.