Mariska Hargitay Mariska Hargitay

As sad as Mariska Hargitay is that Christopher Meloni has left Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, she says that with Meloni's Detective Stabler out of the picture, it's now finally time for her character, Detective Olivia Benson, to open herself up to love. All that will-they-or-won't-they was holding Benson back, Hargitay says.

"Chris and I started together and we were extremely close and obviously have this amazing chemistry, which was a gift," the 48-year-old actress told reporters at NBC's summer press day Wednesday. "[But] there was no room for a man in her life because of their connection."

Law and Order: SVU's End of the Affair: "This never happened"

This season, Benson found love with ADA David Haden (Harry Connick Jr.). But when defense attorney Bayard Ellis (Andre Braugher), who might have his own feelings for Benson, threatened to expose their potentially unethical relationship, they put on the brakes indefinitely.

Still, Hargitay is optimistic about Benson's love life. "It feels like such a new beginning to me," she says. "I feel like Haden opened [her] heart again and there's hope now for Benson. I don't know what's going to happen with our little love triangle, but I feel that [she's] changed."

Romantic potential isn't the only change at SVU. Olivia also has a new partner, Detective Nick Amaro (Danny Pino), who is just one of many new cast members. "The chemistry that I have with Danny is so unbelievable, and it's completely different," she says, noting that she was very nervous about starting the season with a whole new cast. "It's a new show to me. It's very different. This new cast came on and I had no idea what to expect. We had a new showrunner. I am unbelievably surprised and so excited and happy. It was such a lesson to me about one chapter closes and another one opens."

Do you want to see Benson find love?

Law & Order: SVU airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on NBC.