Ben Smith is reflecting on his Bachelorette experience with nothing but gratitude.
On Thursday's episode of Nick Viall's podcast, The Viall Files, the runner-up on Tayshia Adams' recently wrapped season opened up about his time on the show and the resulting "peace" he is feeling after Adams, 30, chose Zac Clark and ultimately accepted his proposal.
While it was "tough to see [himself] go through something like that" while watching the episode back (Smith, who was sent home before the Fantasy Suite dates, returned to profess his love to Adams — and was later sent home again), the star, 28, told Viall, 40, that he was "so happy for the way that it ended up." (He didn't read spoilers or otherwise have any idea how the season ended.)
"I'm so happy for Tayshia, I'm so happy for Zac. Zac and I were close throughout the entire experience," Smith said. "You can see that they're happy together. The fact that they're still together is incredible."
He agreed that while watching the show back, he noticed Clark, 36, and Adams had a "deeper bond and a deeper connection" than he had with her, the Army veteran said he has "peace around the whole experience."
"I'm like, 'Holy cow, I came out of that with so much growth and so much experience.' I'm a newer, better, more complete version of myself, and so I'm incredibly thankful and happy," Smith added.
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He recalled that when Adams told him she didn't think they were on the same page about marriage, "It was a lot of me sitting there trying to figure out how to breathe, and her staring at me," Smith told Viall. "She said, 'I'm not sure we're on the same page.' And up until that point, I thought we were both completely on the same page — on the same letter and the same word on the same page."
"I've never been more caught off-guard, ever, in my life," he continued. "But it was a pretty cool experience, 'cause it showed some blind spots for me — it showed that maybe the thing that I'm seeing or what I'm perceiving about this thing might be incorrect, or maybe not, I'm not sure."
Smith recalled telling host Chris Harrison that he wanted to let Adams know how he felt for "closure" reasons, and not necessarily to come back on the show as much as "to show up for myself."
"Of course I was hopeful [that she would take me back] but … we've all gotten back with an ex and it's always weird, it's always different, it's never the same relationship — there's always some sort of resentment, there's always some sort of thing that's unsaid, an elephant in the room all the time, at least from my experience," he added.
Before Adams told him her relationship with Clark had just progressed further after Fantasy Suites, "I wanted the chance to ultimately end up with her," Smith said. "For the first time in my life, I found a woman that I could see being the mother of my children. I don't get to that place, I don't think about that thing very often, and she checked all my boxes, which is unreal."
But Smith, who hadn't dated for more than a year outside of the show, is "not holding any resentments," and is thankful for the experience.
"I came in trying to meet a girl, trying to learn something about myself and maybe restore my faith in humanity, and I got all those things, which is nuts to me," he said.
Smith was eliminated during Tuesday's episode as Adams chose Clark, an addiction-recovery specialist. Though Smith was originally sent home ahead of Fantasy Suite dates, the military veteran returned to profess his love for Adams, earning him a spot in the final three.
"I am in love with you," he told Adams on the show. "The life we could have together, the thought of that, it keeps me awake at night and I'm not sure what to do right now. I'm not sure what I'm asking for. I don't even know what I'm doing. I couldn't leave. But I just had to tell you."
Adams decided to bring Smith back on and introduced him to her family. But she ultimately sent him home before the proposal after realizing that their connection wasn't strong enough to build a future together.
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"I care about you so much, but I just feel like my heart is with somebody else," she said on the finale. "I feel like we missed out on a little bit of time that was very monumental."
Smith was visibly heartbroken. "I was excited to be back. I was really hopeful that we would be together," he said. "I saw it going differently, but when you love somebody you want them to be happy."
He spoke out for the first time on Wednesday after his split from Adams, tagging her in a heartfelt post on Instagram and writing, in part, "Thank you for your patience. Thank you for seeing me, for always listening, and for trying your best to know on the deepest level. I struggle. I struggle to be the person you need and I still struggle knowing what's enough. You're beautiful inside and out and I'm so incredibly grateful for your heart."
"What's meant for you will find you," Smith continued. "And what's meant for me? I'm ready to receive. To a deeper connection to self and ever increasing opportunity to give love."
Smith was a fan-favorite from the start. He candidly opened up about his battle with an eating disorder during a group date with Adams, and later revealed that he had two failed suicide attempts in recent years.
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