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May 5, 2016 8:00 AM EDT

Terrible dates. We’ve all had them. Anyone who says they haven’t is either lying, married the first person they ever went out with or truly is #blessed.

There’s nothing worse than spending the days leading up to a date so excited you’ve got constant butterflies, only to go out and immediately regret ditching the sweat pants and no-bra lifestyle for the evening. It’s discouraging when you don’t connect with someone—especially when you really wanted to. When this happens, don’t think of it as a lost opportunity—think of it as a process of elimination. There is now one less person in the world you have to worry about. Congratulations! You don’t have to remember their birthday or pretend to be interested in their fantasy football league.

As a single woman in my (early) 30s, I’m a veteran of the dating scene. That means I’ve been on some truly awful first dates, but I’ve learned to embrace the slow train wreck that they inevitably turn into. Once something is that far off the rails, you can either lean-in to the curve or let it crash and burn.

The magic happens when you lean in.

Like the guy who would only talk about the industrial accidents he encountered in his work. That was only my third online date ever, and in retrospect, this guy was absolutely magnificent in his social tone-deafness, doubling down on gruesome finger-loss-related stories, the specifics of which time has mercifully dimmed in my memory.

One of my most recent first dates was with another man I met online. He looked great on paper, but when I showed up to the semi-swanky bar we had agreed upon, he had on his favorite sports team’s outfit. He also tried to get my address multiple times so he could send me the DVD of a movie he’d written. It was fascinating and magical.

A good date is about the other person. They’re smart, charming, funny, attractive—you like them, but what fun is that? On the other hand, a bad date is all about you in the best way possible. Your date illuminates your personal deal-breakers—and when you find them out, it’s liberating.

Read more: 4 Proven Ways to Have a Better First Date

When I was younger, I treated dating like a mad dash to long-term relationship status. I breezed through good dates and bad dates alike in order to find “the one.” Now that I’m a little older, I realize that you can’t rush through the dating pool hoping to find your soul mate. You have to take each and every person as they come because, as you do, you learn something about yourself in the process.

You become the person you need to be so that, when you do meet someone special, you recognize and appreciate what you have together—and how rare it is.

Kate Hudson, a marketing professional, is single and lives in Los Angeles. Her last date ended…poorly.

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