My latest podcast obsession (other than Radiant, of course) is the Shauna Niequist podcast. I’ve been convinced for quite some time now that we are soul friends for a number of reasons, the fact that we’re both Enneagram 7s, our love of good food and our obsession with reading, just to name a few.

When interviewing Henry Cloud on the show the other day I was particularly intrigued as he mentioned tidbits of advice from his book How to Find a Date Worth Keeping a number of times. As a single person who writes a dating column I thought it my duty to do some investigating on the subject.

First and foremost the book is phenomenal for a number of reasons. Odds are if you’re reading this article you too are dating, or would like to be, so I will take the risk of recommending you purchase his book right now instead of finishing this article.

One of the things he says right off the bat is to stop treating dating as a means to marriage. Which initially seemed backwards to me. Wasn’t marriage the whole purpose of dating?

But according to Cloud it’s not.

In fact, what would happen if we stopped viewing dating as a means to an end and looked at it as an entire experience in and of itself? What if we all stacked hands and agreed to really invest in dating, not for the grand prize of marriage, but for the good things it can offer us and produce in us apart from looking for a spouse?

The concept seemed revolutionary but I was willing to try it and I’ve got to say it really does work.

Dating by itself is worth pursuing for a number of reasons. When I stopped evaluating every guy as someone who was “marriage material” or not it helped me enjoy him for who he was as a human being, a great guy worth getting to know. Now, that doesn’t mean he is necessarily the best fit for me, but he’s worth an evening spending time together and treating him the way I would want to be treated. I’ve discovered that dating is a great way to care for others and doesn’t necessarily need to be this ultra-intense quest for marriage.

Appreciating dating also taught me so much about myself and really helped to take the pressure off. Instead of feeling the need to impress I was finally able to relax, be myself, and enjoy the entire experience rather than filtering it through a marriage lens. All along I wish I could’ve felt the freedom to wear what I want, eat what I want, drink what I want, and say what I want on a date without the fear that I was totally blowing it with what could end up being my future spouse. Instead I take the date as it comes, ironically enough for better or for worse, and can appreciate the fact that two people are willing to give up an evening of their time to spend together.

Ultimately, dating is all about discovering who you are while also assembling some standards for what you want and need out of a romantic relationship. As silly as it might sound, the only way to figure out what you do want is by figuring out what you most definitely do not want. You can’t just shoot for the moon straight out of the gate and hope to land Mr. Right. It takes time, practice, and failure to learn about yourself and about the type of person you want to end up with.

No one said dating is easy. In fact, it tends to be muddied waters since none of us are using the same rule book, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so intense. Have fun with the dating process and attempt to be present instead of wondering whether or not you two would make cute kids together. After all, it’s just a date, so maybe it’s time to start treating it like one.