Dating. It’s supposed to be “fun” and “exciting,” right? And sure, some of it is. There’s that time you met the handsome stranger at the hippest new restaurant in town and bantered that perfect, spring night away; or that time you kissed your now-ex under the Fourth of July fireworks. But for something that’s considered categorically, there are a lot of tears and cringe-worthy moments that you might just want to take back. Like the time you ran after the hot player, convinced he would “change” for you! Or that other time you sent an emotionally-fueled text (or six) to your ex (eek). Or yet another time you finally said something — hideously silly — to the dude you’d been crushing on for, I don’t know, a whole year. Ugh. Well, I’m here to applaud you for every last one of those so-called mistakes, mishaps and misfires. Here’s why. Most of us aren’t going to marry the first person we date. In fact, most of us shouldn’t marry the first person we date. We’re not ready yet; would you buy the first house you look at without doing any research or looking at any other options? Dating, the joy and the pain, is all about growth. It’s about figuring out exactly what you want and need in a partner. It’s a process. And it takes time and screw-ups. They say life is a cruel teacher. You get the test first, and then you get the lesson. But here’s the deal with dating: the more tests you “fail,” the more the lessons you amass — and there’s always an opportunity for retakes. When these exams hit your desk a second time, you’ve already studied up, and you’re ready to pass with flying colors. That guy who sweet-talks you the first second you meet? Player, best to move on. When your commitment-phobic ex calls you back up and asks to meet? Politely decline. Been there, done that. When your date tells you he’s just out a relationship… two weeks ago? Emotionally unavailable isn’t your thing anymore. Soon, you get better and better at recognizing the situations that will lead to heartbreak. But first, you have to fail the tests. Friends will warn you about your ex, your mom will tell you’re crazy about that guy you’re hopelessly in love with — but sometimes, you need to experience it to know why it won’t work. To know you’re not the exception. To know that despite a hundred red flags amongst that one redeeming, alluring quality, it won’t magically work out. Sometimes, first, you have to be ridiculous in dating. My favorite dating coach is Boston-based Neely Steinberg, who I recently chatted with on this very subject. She says she had a ton of fun dating in her 20s, despite her fair share of heartbreak — and sometimes, she chased disaster. But then she turned 30, and committed herself to taking stock of those hard-earned lessons. “I became less interested in fleeting hook-ups, less dazzled by the charming, hot men, more open to dating outside ‘my type,'” she tells me. “I became less likely to let something drag on if I didn’t feel it was right, or if I saw red flags. I was committed to self-growth through my dating experiences, and started having the tougher conversations with guys that I normally would just avoid in my 20s.” Neely met her husband at age 33 on Match.com, and says he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her. She dated off-type, she dated smart and strategically — and she recognized his potential, because she’d finally dated enough men to pick out a flower among the weeds. In dating, as in life, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s how we grow. So, be ridiculous if you need to be. Just make sure you’re learning the lesson with each failed test. Then you’ll really appreciate the right person when you finally cross paths.