We hear it every season, but Matt James’ journey to find love was truly the most dramatic in Bachelor history. As the 29-year-old reality star’s love story with Rachael Kirkconnell unfolded on TV, rumors circulated that the 24-year-old graphic designer had a racist past. Soon enough, the evidence began stacking up. Not only did a former classmate accuse the contestant of bullying her for dating a Black man, but photos of the Georgia native at an antebellum-themed party surfaced.
The scandal tested Matt and Rachael’s relationship and nearly broke them up for good. After the finale aired, the pair confirmed that they called it quits at the height of the backlash. The commercial real estate agent also made it seem as though the two were over for good. “The most disappointing thing for me was having to explain to you why what I saw was problematic and why I was so upset,” the reality star told the Season 25 winner on the After the Final Rose special before admitting that his feelings didn’t go away overnight.
Later, Matt told ATFR host Emmanuel Acho that he needed to “take a step back” from their relationship. “The work and the reconciliation that needs to be done is work that I can’t do for you,” he told Rachael. However, since then, they have been spotted together on various occasions.
So where do they stand now ahead of Matt’s Dancing With the Stars debut? Check out their complete relationship timeline below to find out.
The First Night
Although it was Abigail who received the first impression rose, Rachael clearly felt a spiritual connection to Matt when he took a moment to pray with the 32 women who showed up on night one in hopes of finding love. “Everything that he said I felt like I really related to that,” Rachael said, per Us Weekly. Later on, she admitted in a confessional that she thought she would be “infatuated” with Matt, but that she didn’t anticipate having such strong feelings so early on. “The fact that he opened that up with a prayer struck a nerve for me,” she said. “I didn’t expect to feel like this so soon.”
Their First Date
One-on-one dates have the potential to change everything, and that was certainly true for Matt and Rachael. The Bachelor took the early frontrunner on an elaborate shopping spree fit for a princess, but the graphic designer got much more than a complimentary pair of Louboutins. “Rachael, I’m falling in love with you too,” Matt admitted. “And it is scary to say, but when I’m with you, it just feels right.”
The next week, Matt reassured Rachael that his feelings hadn’t changed by giving her the group date rose. “Where I’m at with you is, when I’m not around you, I’m thinking about you,” he said. “And you just make me smile.” Rachael, for her part, admitted that she “finally found what she had been looking for. “The only worry is that I just don’t get you at the end of this,” she said.
The Fantasy Suite
Spending the night together in the fantasy suite makes or breaks couples on The Bachelor. In Matt and Rachael’s case, that uninterrupted time only strengthened their relationship. “Where I’m at with you is I’ve fallen in love with you,” Matt told Rachael on the March 8 episode. “I’m head over heels for you,” she responded. “I’m completely in love with you.”
The Final Rose
Not every season of The Bachelor ends with an engagement, and when his journey was wrapping up in November 2020, Matt couldn’t get down on one knee. “I couldn’t live with myself if I put you through what my mom’s been through,” he told Rachael of his parents’ broken marriage. Despite not proposing, the reality star told his final rose recipient that he wanted to pursue a relationship off-screen. “I want to leave here with you, and I want to commit to you,” he said. “The truth is that I love you.” Rachael, who said she “never felt a love like this” in her whole life, happily agreed.
The Racism Scandal
If Season 25 of The Bachelor proved anything, it was that nothing can rock a relationship quite like a racism scandal. As the show premiered, rumors of Kirkconnell’s racist past circulated online. In late January, a TikTok user accused Kirkconnell of liking racist social media posts and taking photos with friends wearing MAGA hats. Someone else on the platform claimed she knew Kirkconnell in high school and that the contestant used to bully her for dating Black men.
James addressed the rumors on Feb. 2 and asked viewers not to make assumptions. “Rumors are dark, and they’re nasty, and they can ruin people’s lives,” he told Entertainment Tonight. “I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully, she’ll have her time to speak on that.” Later that month, new photos surfaced of Rachael attending an antebellum-themed party in 2018. Additional images of her dressed as a Native American also made the rounds.
Longtime host Chris Harrison weighed in on the scandal during a Feb. 9 interview with Extra host and former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay. “The woke police is out there,” he said. “And this poor girl Rachael, who has just been thrown to the lions, I don’t know how you are equipped when you have never done this before, to be woke enough, to be eloquent enough, to be ready to handle this.” The backlash was swift, with viewers immediately calling for Harrison’s resignation. On June 8, he officially announced that he wouldn’t be returning to the franchise.
On Feb. 11, Rachael took to Instagram to issue the first of several apologies. In her statement, she called her actions “wrong,” “ignorant,” and “racist.” “I am sorry to the communities and individuals that my actions harmed and offended,” she wrote. “I am ashamed about my lack of education, but it is no one’s responsibility to educate me.”
On Feb. 25, the Season 25 winner returned to Instagram with a nearly eight-minute-long video asking her followers to stop defending her. “If you are in my comments or defending me anywhere, telling people that I did nothing wrong, that there’s nothing to be hurt about, there’s nothing to be angry about or offended about, please stop,” she said. “That’s not our place to tell people what they can or can’t be offended about.”
Matt and Rachael reportedly broke up in mid-February. Later that month, the Bachelor called the entire situation “devastating and heartbreaking” on Instagram. The pair addressed their split during the After the Final Rose special, which aired on March 15. “When he first called me to end things, my initial reaction was I was very confused. I was very blindsided,” Rachael said. “But once that initial reaction went away, I thought about how strong I thought our relationship was. So for him to end things, he must have been very, very hurt by everything. It was hard, because I lost the love of my life.”
Although Rachael said she was still in love with Matt, the reality star told host Emmanuel Acho that they needed time apart. “I have to take a step back and allow her to put in that work,” he said. He also revealed that their breakup was “tough.” “It’s heartbreaking,” he added. “If you don’t understand that something like that is problematic in 2018, then it’s hard for me to believe. … It’s as simple as that.”
After the special aired, Rachael took to Instagram to reflect on the entire experience. “I knew from the first night I met Matt that he was something special,” she wrote alongside a carousel of photos from the season. “While I never expected this outcome, I respect his decision completely. Of course, I wish circumstances were different, but I still feel blessed for the time we did have together and the memories we made. I got to fall in love, and I truly believe he was the love of my life.”
While Matt seemed adamant that they wouldn’t get back together, the two were spotted in New York City in April. “They wanted to keep it a secret, but they got caught walking around the city,” a source told Us Weekly. “They’ve been working on their relationship privately over the past few months and taking the next steps to get back together. They spoke and FaceTimed daily.” It’s worth noting that there were some conflicting reports. According to E!, the duo had no plans to rekindle their romance. “Rachael and Matt are completely just friends,” a source told the outlet. “He has no intentions of dating her in the future.”
The Other Woman
After their reunion, many Bachelor fans thought they made amends. Alas, the opposite seemed to be true. On April 9, a woman named Grace told Reality Steve that she was talking to the former Bachelor during Kirkconnell’s visit to New York. According to Us Weekly’s source, Rachael felt “very hurt” and “manipulated” when she found out about Grace because she and James had reportedly been “talking about a future together.” The insider added that Grace and Rachael both “dropped him” upon learning that he was talking to both of them at once.
“Rachael is very emotional right now because she was very hopeful that things were going to work out. She’s still trying to process this,” Us Weekly’s insider said, adding that it “doesn’t seem like they will be getting back together.” According to an E! News source, Rachael expressed how upset she was but ultimately decided that it was best for them to cut off contact. “Matt and Rachael are no longer speaking and Rachael is really upset about the situation that happened,” an insider said. “She is devastated and feels totally played by Matt. Rachael really trusted that they could have a future together and is heartbroken.”
In late April, Rachael and Matt appeared to be on the same page again. After being photographed grabbing food in California, the former Bachelor told People that they were working on their relationship. “I’m not pursuing any relationships right now outside of that,” he told the magazine. “I said I was going to focus on my relationship with her and that means focusing on it.” The following month, the two were spotted holding hands in NYC.
In a May interview with WSJ, Matt explained why he decided not to give up on their relationship. “It’s on people who care about being allies to do the work to be truly antiracist,” he said. “And I think it’s unfair to leave people without the ability to unlearn and be better.” In an email, Rachael confirmed to the magazine that they got back together. During an appearance on the Pomp podcast, Matt revealed that their reconciliation was the result of an ultimatum.
“There came a point in time where it was evident that my working on the relationship looked different than Rachael’s because I wasn’t really honoring that commitment that I made to working on the relationship,” Matt said on the podcast. “She was like, ‘If you’re going to make this work, let’s do it. But, if you’re not going to make it work, I’m going to let you do your own thing.’ That’s really all I needed. It was an ultimatum that I needed. It’s been great.”
The Latest: Dancing With The Stars
Since getting back together, the lovebirds have gone on many trips together, including a steamy, PDA-filled vacation to Miami and a luxurious Aspen getaway. In July, they made their red carpet debut at the ESPYS. Now, the couple is preparing for the former Bachelor to make his Dancing With the Stars debut. On Sept. 9, Kirkconnell shared a behind-the-scenes clip of her boyfriend showing off his silly dance moves at home.
“WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM FOR A MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT,” she wrote at the time. “This AMAZING dancer is SO honored to join the cast of DANCING WITH THE STARS.” In response, Matt called Rachael a “hater,” but elsewhere in the caption, she congratulated her man for joining Season 30 of DWTS. “I’m SO EXCITED FOR YOU & so proud of you already!!!” she continued. “The other teams don’t know what's coming!!!”
Despite all of the teasing, Matt said that Rachael has been very supportive leading up to the Season 30 premiere, which airs on Sept. 20. After admitting that he’s been icing his feet after rehearsals, James told E! News’ Daily Pop how Kirkconnell helps him recover. “It’s been a tough journey so far with the body aching,” he said. “I actually got some coupons for Valentine’s Day and I have cashed in some of those massage ones.” Kirkconnell, for her part, gave an update on James’ progress just a few weeks ago. “He’s been picking it up so quickly, so I’ve been so impressed with him,” she told Us Weekly. “I’m impressed with everything he does. I think he’s going to do really well. He’s not the most fluid, and he doesn’t have the rhythm down yet, but I think he will [get it].”
On the eve of Matt’s’ DWTS debut, Rachael gave a behind-the-scenes look at how they were preparing for the premiere. After cheersing over an Italian meal, the pair bumped into former Bachelorette and mirror ball trophy winner Hannah Brown, who gave James a crash course in ballroom dancing.
Here’s hoping that Brown’s last-minute lesson paid off. If not, Matt will have plenty of free time to spend with Rachel holding hands and doing car karaoke, just like they did after that Italian meal.
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