"It was definitely a long anticipation for the first night," says Bachelorette Clare Crawley, whose season was postponed by COVID-19

Despite the fact that her season of The Bachelorette took place during a pandemic, Clare Crawley can see a silver lining.

"There were definitely a lot of emotions," Crawley, 39, who was set to start filming her season in March before COVID-19 led to a shutdown of production, tells PEOPLE. "It was stressful. But there were also honestly so many pros to it getting shut down."

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clare crawley
Clare Crawley

Continues Crawley: "Producers were able to recast some of the guys and get some that were more appropriate for what I was looking for. I wanted a guy who was genuinely there for me. There was a lot of talk about, 'Oh, I'm the older Bachelorette, are these guys too young?' But it was also about: am I too old for them? It went both ways. So we were able to hone in on what everybody was looking for."

the bachelorette
Clare Crawley and her Bachelorette contestants
| Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC

Ultimately, "the ones that wanted to be there after the hoops they had to jump through, that was what I was looking for."

And Crawley admits that months of waiting resulted in a few extra nerves — and gratitude.

"It was definitely a long anticipation for the first night," she says. "To see the men standing in a room and know that most of them have the same interests and goals as I do, it really was magical. They were all amazing. I could feel it in my bones!"

And the physical connections were made all the more sweet following weeks of quarantine.

"Being a single woman during the pandemic, I spent months alone with my dog," says Crawley. "There was no physical touch, no contact and no face to face. So just being able to hug on somebody and love on somebody was so amazing. There was more of an appreciation. And goosebumps!"