December 27, 2017 04:00 PM

The last time Arie Luyendyk Jr. was on TV, his heart was broken.

Devastated after being dumped by Bachelorette Emily Maynard in 2012, the former race-car driver even futilely tried to win her back after the show ended, eventually retreating home to Scottsdale, Arizona.

“It was really hard for me to get over that relationship,” he tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “But I learned a lot about myself and how deeply I could love somebody. It made me want to do it again.”

Now, Luyendyk Jr. is back as the star of The Bachelor, premiering Jan. 1 on ABC. “I’m defintely ready to settle down,” says the 36-year-old real estate agent. “I want the next chapter of my life to start.”

Luyendyk Jr. admits he did date someone else “fairly close to filming,” revealing, “We broke up a month and a half before the announcement. I didn’t know I was doing the show until three days before. It happened so fast.”

Still, he says he hasn’t been in a relationship “that made me want to get married” since courting Maynard, 31, on The Bachelorette.

Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Emily Maynard in 2012

“The last time I was really in love was with Emily,” he says. “So I think it’s natural to find a wife on the show, because that’s the last time I was ready for an engagement.”

Back then, Maynard got engaged to Jef Holm instead, though they split months later. She married Tyler Johnson in 2014 and is now mom to four kids: daughter Ricki, 12, and sons Gatlin Avery, 6 weeks, Gibson Kyle, 15 months, and Jennings Tyler, 2.

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But Luyendyk says it took him “a long time” to get over their breakup.

“I think that’s normal if you’re in a relationship where you really fall deeply,” he explains. “Watching the show, I got a lot of clarity, so that was important.”

  • For more on Arie’s journey, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

And as he revealed to PEOPLE, he falls in love not once, but twice this season.

“I’m very happy,” he says. “It was very hard, but I wouldn’t change anything. No regrets.”

The Bachelor premieres Jan. 1, 2018, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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