The couple made their red carpet debut at the 2021 ESPYs on Saturday, July 10, and Bachelor producer Mike Fleiss took to Twitter to mark their relationship milestone. “Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell Come out of Hiding at ESPY Awards,” he tweeted alongside a link to a TMZ post with the same headline.
James, 29, and the Georgia native, 24, were quick to clear the air. “Ain’t nobody hiding!” the Wake Forest alum tweeted in response alongside a playful selfie of him and Kirkconnell giving skeptical glances behind big sunglasses.
James was cast as the ABC franchise’s first Black Bachelor in 2020 and fell head over heels for the graphic designer during season 25, which aired earlier this year. However, the pair’s romance hit a snag in March after racially insensitive social media activity from Kirkconnell’s past resurfaced.
“While there have been rumors circulating, there have also been truths that have come to light that I need to address. I hear you, and I’m here to say I was wrong,” she wrote in one of her several Instagram apologies before reuniting with the ABC Food Tours founder on the After the Final Rose special. “At one point, I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them. My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not acceptable or OK in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.”
For his part, James admitted he “wasn’t OK” when he learned about Kirkconnell’s actions, which included attending an antebellum-themed party in 2018. “As someone who grew up in the South, it takes me to a place that I don’t often like to think about. … It was in that moment and the conversation that I had, that Rachael might not understand what it means to be Black in America,” he said on After the Final Rose. “It’s heartbreaking. If you don’t understand that something like that is problematic in 2018, there’s a lot of me that you won’t understand. It’s as simple as that.”
After briefly taking time apart, the reality stars fueled rumors that they reunited in April when they were spotted together on multiple occasions. James confirmed in May that they were giving their relationship another shot.
“It was honestly a commitment that we made to each other that we were going to work on the relationship,” he explained on the “Pomp” podcast at the time, revealing that Kirkconnell gave him an “ultimatum” that convinced him to try again. “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.”
James proceeded to gush over his girlfriend’s “kind, caring” heart, noting, “Everything we’ve been through, everything she’s been through, she’s stuck right by my side. She’s continued to have a positive attitude. It’s one of the many things I love about her.”
His BFF Tyler Cameron is also a big fan, telling Us Weekly exclusively that he’s “really enjoyed” getting to know Kirkconnell more. “She was awesome. She’s a beam of light,” he said in June. “I think they’re great for each other. They seem like they’re spending a lot of time together, getting comfortable with each other and they’ve come a long way. So if they’re happy, I’m happy.”
Before they stepped out at the ESPYs on Saturday, the duo jetted off to Aspen, Colorado, for a romantic stay at the Little Nell luxury hotel. “They were very close and acted as if they had been dating for years,” an onlooker told Us of the off-on couple.