updated 07/23/2012 AT 8:30 AM ET
•originally published 07/22/2012 AT 10:10 PM ET
Emily Maynard’s televised search for true love and a stepfather for her 7-year-old daughter Ricki ended with the season finale of The Bachelorette Sunday night.
After being courted by 25 men in the show’s eighth season, the North Carolina single mom narrowed the field to two men: race car driver Arie Luyendyk and entrepreneur Jef Holm.
Joined by her family in Curacao, Emily, 26, extolled the virtues of each of her potential partners on Sunday’s show. Her father David gave both men his blessing to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. But only one man – Jef – proposed. And after a long pause Emily accepted.
It was clear after their final date in Curacao, which included a seaside picnic and an afternoon swim date with Ricki, that Emily could see her future with Jef. The next day she confessed to host Chris Harrison that her feelings were strongest for Jef and that she didn’t want to go on another date with Arie. Chris encouraged her to be honest and upfront about her decision.
After Arie spent time working up a love potion with a local woman, Emily arrived, sniffling and teary-eyed.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“You know how I felt about you from our first date,” Emily said as Arie pulled back, bewildered that he was about to be let down gently. “I never thought I’d have to make a choice between you and anybody. I always thought it would be me and you. I’m sorry.”
Arie sighed heavily. “I’m shocked,” he said. “I completely thought we had something.”
Upset and confused, Arie got up and began to walk away. Emily followed after him, but it was clear he was hurt and wanted to go.
“Thank you for sparing me the embarrassment tomorrow,” he said as he embraced her one more time. “Good Luck.”
As his car drove away, Arie confessed, “I still believe she is the love of my life. It’s so painful. I can’t believe this is it.”
But it was.
“I never in a million years thought I’d be so in love as I am,” Emily said as she awaited Jef’s arrival in anticipation of a marriage proposal.
When he arrived, Emily told him that the long road to the finale “was all worth it … You really are everything that I’ve looked for for so long. I really do feel like you’re my soul mate. You are the perfect person for me. You get me better than anybody ever has. I love you so, so much.”
Emily then told Jef that he was the only man “that got to meet Ricki and I didn’t even go on a date with Arie yesterday. He’s not even here today. It’s just me and you.”
“That’s amazing. That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard,” Jef said, beaming as he embraced her.
“I feel like the luckiest man in the world,” he said. “I think it’s so rare that people find the person that they’re meant to be with. I think it’s so incredibly meant to be that you and I found each other like this here and I’m so grateful that we did. I think God puts the right people in our lives when the timing is just right.”
“I’m so in love with you,” he continued. “I promise you if you let me into your life and Ricki’s life you will never feel lonely ever again.”
Before Jef got down on one knee, he looked into Emily’s eyes and said, “I want you to know that what I’m about to ask you aren’t just empty words that in a few weeks or a few months or a few years, or even a few decades will be lost. What I’m about to ask you is a forever thing.”
He revealed a Neil Lane ring and asked, “Emily, will you marry me?” She paused, soaked in the moment, and then softly replied, “Yes.”
The two embraced, kissed and told each other “I love you,” before Ricki joined them in the courtyard.
The three walked away hand-in-hand, and Emily told Ricki, “We did it!”