Bachelorette Clare Crawley Opens Up About Ex Juan Pablo Galavis: 'It Didn't Have to End Bad'

She’ll soon begin her search for love as the new Bachelorette, but Clare Crawley‘s first foray into the franchise didn’t end as she had planned.

In 2014, Crawley was runner-up on Juan Pablo Galavis‘ season of The Bachelor. The pair had an often rocky romance, culminating in an offensive sexual comment he made to her on their final one-on-one date.

Still, Crawley was blindsided when he dumped her for final pick Nikki Ferrell. She managed some memorable parting words to Galavis: “I would never want my children having a father a father like you.”

As Crawley, 38, reflects on the difficult breakup, she says she’s grateful for the experience.

“I felt so thankful for my evolution of what happened on my path on The Bachelor,” she tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “When my season ended, it was the biggest blessing in my life. I stood up for myself in a way that I had never done in any relationship before, or even in life.”

RELATED: New Bachelorette Clare Crawley, 38, Says Her Age Is ‘an Asset’ in Search for Love

She continues: “To be able to feel that strength within myself was life-changing. It was huge.”

Still, Crawley is unequivocal when it comes to Galavis, with whom she says she “definitely” does not stay in touch.

“Relationships ending doesn’t always have to be a negative thing,” she says. “With Juan Pablo, it didn’t have to end bad. It didn’t have to end rude like that.”

In contrast, Crawley says she’s remained close to her ex-fiancé Benoit Beausejour-Savard, whom she met on The Bachelor Winter Games in 2018.

“We are each other’s biggest fans,” she says. “We root for each other and for each other’s happiness. And that’s a level of maturity that’s important in healthy relationships, whether they work out or not.”

Now, Crawley says she’s “so excited” to begin her journey as the Bachelorette.

“I’ve been ready to be engaged and married for a long time,” she says. “I know what I want and what I’m looking for. And I’m just ready to start that life.”

Crawley’s season of The Bachelorette premieres May 18 on ABC. Share your thoughts in PEOPLE’s exclusive Facebook group for fans of the franchise.

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