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Brianne Tracy
April 10, 2018 at 08:49 PM EDT

As Kate Gosselin’s eight kids are getting older and preparing to leave the nest, she’s realizing she wants her own happily ever after.

More than eight years after finalizing her divorce from Jon Gosselin in 2009, the reality star is getting back into the dating scene with her new TLC series Kate Plus Date.

“I started picturing myself sitting in a rocking chair, knitting, and words like ‘old maid’ and ‘spinster’ started to come to mind, and I realized that no, I don’t want that to be my fate,” Gosselin, 43, tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Gosselin’s two eldest children — twins Mady and Cara, both 17 — will go off to college in the fall of 2019, leaving Gosselin at home with her 13-year-old sextuplets Aaden, Joel, Alexis, Hannah, and Leah. (Collin is enrolled in a program away from home to help him reach his full potential.)

“As we’re talking about Mady and Cara going off to college which is becoming more and more of a reality, it’s gonna happen, it almost became like a worry for them, too, like ‘Mommy, you’re gonna be all alone soon,’” says Gosselin, who was married to her ex-husband Jon for 10 years. “But it was very apparent, now that they’re older and talking about dating and how they’re all gonna get married someday … it became apparent: they want someone for me. They want me to have somebody in my life.”

Due to the busy home life she shares with her kids, Gosselin says she “stopped focusing” on herself.

“I used to be a runner, and all of these things sort of fell by the wayside, and I sort of forgot about the dating thing,” she says. “It’s never really fit into my life.”

Though Gosselin says her life is “very complicated,” she doesn’t want that to hold her back.

“If I’m going to date someone, I can’t just go out on a date — it’s creepy to me to think of just going out somewhere with some stranger, and so I actually feel like doing it like this is the best and safest way for me to go on a date — a camera crew will be there! I’ll be safe!” she says. “And the person will have been vetted by a matchmaker.

When it comes to what she’s looking for in a match, Gosselin says she’s “open.”

“I do want someone with a set career, who is confident. A grown-up with their own life, their own agenda, who knows who they are. If someone travels for work, that would be great, because I’m used to being on my own and being self-sufficient,” she says.

Gosselin makes it clear that if she does end up meeting someone special and introduces him to her kids, that he won’t be their “dad.”

“I would love my kids to have a mutual friendship and respect with this guy and for him to be someone they can ask for advice,” she says. “It would be great for my kids to have someone they can feel like is a real friend. And most of all, [they] must love dogs. That is such a deal-breaker. People disappoint you, but your dogs never will.”

Kate Plus Date is coming to TLC this fall.

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