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This experience happened because of an Instagram story. Ashley Iaconetti posted that someone could come have dinner with her, Jared Haibon (her fiancé) and Ben Higgins. And I was like, "I want to have dinner with Ashley and Jared." I'd been fans of them and their love story for the last three years. While on "Bachelor in Paradise" it seemed as if they'd never get together. Then US Weekly posted a picture of them hanging out at a charity event from Ashley's Instagram account. And I was like, "If Ashley and Jared are hanging out, I need to know this." So I joined Instagram and began following her, pretty routinely commenting on her pics with Jared that they needed to get together and get married ASAP.

Things finally happened and they are now ridiculously in love and happy and even wrote a children's book together. IHeartRadio was offering a fan the chance to come and hang out with some Bachelor Nation stars via a charity auction that was benefitting the American Red Cross. And I was like, "Yep. Going to win that."

Obviously I did win, even though someone tried hard to outbid me at the end. I ended up paying more than I had wanted to, but it was all good. I had to quickly make arrangements to fly out to California, rent a car, get a hotel room, etc. The event was at a woman's clothing store, Planet Blue, in Malibu. I got to drive along the Pacific Coast Highway with a beach view almost the entire way. Gorgeous.

One of the producers invited me to arrive when she did, at 4:30. I got to meet the IHeartRadio team, and there was a Planet Blue staff member named Mary who had been assigned to help me with anything I needed (since part of the package was a $250 gift card to shop at the store). They were setting up a table for Ben and Ashley to do their Almost Famous podcast, and I noticed that they were doing goody/swag bags. I offered to help, and everyone protested, saying it was my day and that I didn't need to do anything. I insisted, given that I was literally standing around doing nothing, and they gave in. Annaliese Puccini also helped out, and it took me a second to realize that she had been on Bachelor in Paradise, as well. She was so extremely sweet and easy to talk to. I really enjoyed the time I got to spend chatting with her.

Ben Higgins showed up next and came over to introduce himself to me when their producer Amy pointed me out. He was solicitous and enthusiastic and honestly, even more charming and handsome in real life than he is on TV (I would say that was true of all the Bachelor Nation stars who attended – you know they're gorgeous, but it's kind of surprising how much more you notice it in real life). I grabbed a photo with him, and I'm nearly six feet and had heels on and you can see that he was still taller than me. He worked the room, greeting all the fans who had come to watch the podcast (i.e., gawk at him and take pictures since you couldn't hear a single word of the podcast given the constant noise level in the room. I'm honestly shocked that they were able to record anything given how loud it was).

Jade and Tanner Tolbert arrived with their darling little girl Emmy in tow. You know how some people adore dogs and will talk to/play with every dog they come across? Yeah, I'm that way with babies. I love babies and little kids. She kept getting into my purse and I thought it was adorable. I'm sure Jade and Tanner were like, "Who is this crazy person who is crouching down on the floor with our daughter?" Emmy did get upset because there were balloons all over the place and she couldn't have one. I went over and yanked one of the balloons away from the decorations and gave it to Emmy, telling the Tolberts they could blame me if anyone got upset. Since I was the auction winner and everyone was being so nice to me, I figured they wouldn't get too mad. They took a picture with me, too.

Ashley and Jared FINALLY arrived. There's this massive plate glass window in Planet Blue and I saw them arriving and was so giddy I took a picture of them OUTSIDE in the parking lot. They came in and I made a beeline for them, introducing myself. I'm fairly certain I came off as a crazy person, because...yeah. I was sort of crazy in that moment. They were very nice but since they were the last to arrive, Ashley had to start the podcast. Jared set about hand selling his co-written book with Ashley, "Lucy and Clark." He offered to sign the books for the fans, and since I always have a Sharpie on me (just in case for signing books myself), I loaned it to him. With the provision that he give it back to me. (Anyone want to lay odds on whether or not I got my Sharpie back?)

There were entertainment reporters there from US Weekly and E! News. (There may have been more, but those are the ones I was aware of). They interviewed the stars, and the cast rotated to have a chance to chat on air with Ben and Ashley on the Almost Famous podcast. There were several girls there from Colton's season, which wasn't something I realized for a couple of hours. In big part because I haven't watched his season past the second episode. I now know (after looking them up) that Heather, Kirpa, Jane, Tracy and Bri were the women there.

The podcast took a break and Ben immediately got up from the table and made his way over to me to say hi, check in and chat with me a little bit. I was very impressed by his gentleman-like behavior and desire to make sure I was comfortable and happy. He really didn't have do to it, but he did. Ashley and Jared would talk to me here and there when they had a second, and I think they were surprised that I had come to see them and not Ben (my guess is Ben is usually the draw for events like this).

During that break the reporters asked for everyone from the Bachelor to come over for a group shot. I headed over too, excited to get a picture of everyone together. Ben approached Amy and then walked back over to the group. Amy immediately turned to me and said, "Sariah! Come get in the photo!" Which means it was Ben's doing. Again, I was touched by his thoughtfulness. He told me to stand in the middle, and I'm afraid I was kind of blocking poor Kirpa because Ben is a little overwhelmingly charming to be honest, and you kind of want to do whatever he asks you to do. LOL

I stepped out of the picture and they got the rest of the group together (minus Jade and Tanner, who left for a bit). Jared and Annaliese stopped to talk with me after the photo for a little while as Ben and Ashley resumed their podcast. It was getting late, and I did my shopping. I got a gorgeous black cardigan/duster that is made of the softest material ever. Mary told me it was perfect for flights, and I can testify that she is correct. It was like wearing a blanket. I bought a pair of comfy yoga/sweat pants made of the same kind of material and a leather bracelet for my daughter. When I was returning my wallet to my purse Ashley made a sad face at me and mouthed the words, "Sorry," since their podcast was running long and keeping us from dinner. I smiled and waved it off—I was having a blast and had no problem waiting.

About that time Nick Viall showed up. I took a couple of pictures of him across the room chatting with a reporter. I didn't go over to try and meet him because honestly? I was starting to get a little tired and worn out. And then the producers wanted us to head over to Mr. Chow's, which was right next door to Planet Blue. I grabbed my stuff and headed over with Annaliese, the Colton season girls and Jade and Tanner. I did tell everyone that I wanted to sit next to Jared and Ashley at dinner. Which was probably rude of me, but I hadn't come all that way and paid all that money to miss out on that chance!

I chatted with the people at the table, including Tori the producer. We talked about college and majoring in history (me) and sociology (her) and how much we loved learning about past cultures and civilizations. I mentioned that I probably should have majored in anthropology and one of the Colton girls said, "I love that store!" I did not laugh. :D I also talked quite a bit with Annaliese about her love life, the show and what it's like to live in Northern California.

When Jared arrived, Tanner told him what I'd said and Jared pulled up an extra chair at the end of the table (which he called the head) and told me to sit there. Between him and Ashley. Which was the best, as far as I was concerned, but I didn't want to separate them. He told me it was fine, they slept in the same bed and could sit apart at one dinner. LOL Ashley showed up not long after that with Ben and Nick. Ben again stopped to say hi, and then Nick made his way over to introduce himself, which surprised me. I did tell him that I started liking him because he was friends with Ashley and I figured if she liked him he must be a good guy. It was only after the words were out of my mouth that I realized it might sound insulting, but that wasn't my intention! He was nice about it though.

I had the best time talking to Ashley and Jared. As I sat there at the dinner (where the meal was served family style), I realized that there's a reason these people are picked to be on The Bachelor and the other accompanying shows. They are dynamic, charming, extroverted, people-loving, witty and outgoing. There's a reason you're drawn to them and want to watch them on screen. The show doesn't always get that right (hello, Arie), but for the most part, this is a really FUN group of people who know how to have a good time. To say I was entertained would have been an understatement.

I got to tell Ashley why I was a fan and how excited I was when she and Jared FINALLY got together. They held hands several times over my plate. They told me I could join in on the handholding, but I declined. LOL Jared did an impersonation of what it would be like to meet the aggressively nice Tom Cruise that ended with Jared declaring, "Guess I'm a Scientologist now" that had me laughing so hard I was afraid I'd spew the food in my mouth. We talked about movies and books and the show itself, with them sharing some behind the scenes things that I'd suspected about various cast members. At one point Ashley told me that she felt like she already knew me, which is how I've always felt about her, and I figure is why I was drawn to her the first time I saw her on TV. She also said I reminded her of Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls!) which I thought was such a nice compliment.

We laughed and chatted and time seemed to fly by. I did ask them at one point to make a video saying hi to my husband, which they did (and he has watched like four times now, he's a fan too!) I didn't think to take pictures or videos of the group because unlike the earlier event, which was designed for them to be "on" for the public and taking photos, this was more personal and it wouldn't have felt right. I was really caught up in the moment, loving everything that was happening and wouldn't have wanted to mar it in any way.

I gave Ashley and Jared a couple of my books for them to read--#Starstruck for Ashley (since she's such a fangirl like me, I thought she'd like it) and #Awestruck for Jared (NFL player in it, and he loves football!). They both promised to read them.

It started to get late, and Jade and Tanner needed to go to put Emmy in bed (and she had adorably spent the evening drawing on the table cloth with her crayons). They both said goodbye to me and hugged all their friends. Ben and Nick were next, and again, both made the effort to come down and shake my hand and say good night to me. Nick picked up #Awestruck and remarked that the hero looked like Maks from Dancing with the Stars, something several of my readers had said, as well. I had totally forgotten Nick was on that show.

And I think given the effort everyone else was making with me, that the Colton girls thought I might be someone important, and they all came by to introduce themselves/say goodbye to me before they left. Which I thought was sweet.

So it was Amy, me, Ashley and Jared. We talked for a long time until Amy had to go, leaving the three of us. I would have been happy to sit there all night with them—I love that I have things in common with them both and can relate to them on those different levels. Jared and I had a very serious conversation about Star Wars. :D But the restaurant staff started giving us looks, and we figured it was time to go. Ashley offered to drive halfway with me to make sure I got back okay, which was so nice, but I told her that I had my GPS and had found my way here, I'd make it back fine. (Which I did!)

Out in the parking lot they both hugged me goodbye, promising to hang out if I made it back to California or if they came out to Park City again (!). Jared offered me a copy of their book, and I told them it was okay, I already had one. He offered again, and I figured, why turn down a chance to get a book straight from their hands that's autographed? In pen, mind you, because Jared had indeed lost my Sharpie. LOL

We said good night and got into our cars.

The only way I can think of to describe this is like when you go on the best date of your life. Everything just clicked, you connected, you had the most incredible time. I don't know if Jared and Ashley felt the same, but for me it was beyond amazing and an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Worth every penny. :D
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