Lucy Hale on Why She's 'Picky' When It Comes to Dating: 'I Know What I'm Looking For'

"Society makes you feel like you have to be married or have kids by a certain age, but that's outdated and doesn't work for my life," the actress tells PEOPLE

US actress Lucy Hale arrives for the sixth annual Instyle Awards at The Getty Center in Los Angeles, November 15, 2021
Lucy Hale. Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty

Lucy Hale isn't in a rush to find "the one."

Over a Zoom call from her home in Los Angeles, the actress, 32, tells PEOPLE that while she's open to love, she's "not settling for less than what I think I deserve."

"I mean, dating is hard in general, but L.A. is a strange place to date," Hale says. "It's tricky with my job taking me everywhere, and I know what I'm looking for. I think it's good to be picky. Society makes you feel like you have to be married or have kids by a certain age, but that's outdated and doesn't work for my life."

Though she's single, Hale (who was last linked to Skeet Ulrich) still has a full life at home with her two dogs, Ethel (named after the I Love Lucy character) and Elvis.

"I love waking up with my dogs and drinking my coffee and watching the sunrise from my home," she says. "I used to think one day I'd have these big hobbies, but it's more just quiet moments with myself. I don't know if it's because work constantly pulls me in a million different directions, but I love solitude. It's not unusual for me to not do anything social for months at a time."

Currently shooting the film The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in Boston, Hale — who also stars in the AMC+ series Ragdoll and in the upcoming rom-com The Hating Game out Friday — says she's gotten to "a point now where I love what I do, but I also like who I am outside of that."

"That, to me, is a big accomplishment because I didn't know if I'd ever be able to say that about myself," she says.

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She says her journey to self-realization began after her seven-year tenure playing Aria Montgomery on the hit Freeform teen drama Pretty Little Liars ended in 2017.

"It was such a crazy experience to be a part of something that was massive on a global scale," she says. "The show changed our lives overnight. We were so young, so busy and over­ worked. But you're up on this mountain, and you're like, 'Every­thing is so great! People love us!'"

"When you step outside of that, you're like, 'That's not normal,'" she continues. "After the show ended, it was a dark time in my life. It made me realize, 'Oh God, I actually don't know what I like about myself.' "

Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell, Lucy Hale, Troian Bellisario and Sasha Pieterse on Pretty Little Liars. Freeform/Eric McCandless

After taking a step back and looking inward, Hale says that in time she started recognizing the "small" things she valued about herself outside of her career, including that she's a good friend and loving dog parent.

"I just really had to hang out with myself," she says.

Through everything, Hale says she's learned the importance of putting her mental health first.

"You know what I love about Adele? She recently said in an interview, 'I lost all this weight, and I'm really sorry that that triggered a lot of things in other people, but that's not my job to make everyone happy.' I thought that was so accurate," says Hale. "In our industry, I do feel a responsibility to be open and honest, but I also have to take care of my mental health."

"Feeling like I have to please so many people made me hate myself," she continues. "I can't live my life wondering what people think of me. I hope people like me, of course. And I hope people relate to what I'm saying, but if they don't, that's not my problem. Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you'll ever have in your life."

For all the details on what Lucy Hale's life is really like, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

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