Why do we date? Why do we partake in the obligatory meal with a total stranger, or the awkward movie appointment that is defined by whether one or two straws puncture the lid of that one large Coca-Cola? Or rather, why should we? If dating to marry that perfect “one” — who was captain of the football team and a future doctor with great hair — led to nothing but heartache, then the dating-to-marry routine doesn’t seem like all it’s chalked up to be. People, especially college students, would be much better off dating to date. And I, a seemingly heartless writer behind this screen whose extent of being in relationships was a 24-day-long rendezvous that went up in flames, am not the only one who thinks so.

The beginning of another academic year here at Binghamton University always reminds me that, for these first few weeks, this place is much less a college and much more a heartbreak hotel. It’s that time of year when optimistic summer lovers realize they’re not cut out for the grueling task of long-distance dating — when high school sweethearts enter worlds that are so much bigger than their two-square-mile hometown. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but it seems that as summer turns to autumn and leaves fall from their branches to their inevitable resting place on Binghamton grounds, so do relationships everywhere — the spine is our emotional graveyard and the Chenango Champlain Collegiate Center (C4) is where we go to drown our sorrows in mediocre coffee and friends.

According to Thought Catalog, “If you’re dating to marry, that means you’re either going to succeed or you’re going to fail.” This outlook on romance is not healthy, as it often leads to disappointment when relationships don’t pan out. It is a perspective that leads to people compromising traits that they want in a partner and treatment they want for themselves, for the sake of trying to make that person fit a certain mold. Often it leads to people changing who they are for the sake of pleasing others. As the catalog says, with this kind of all-or-nothing mindset, “you might be so desperate to reach that milestone that you overlook red flags, that you pretend you’re feeling things you aren’t feeling, that you stay with someone who isn’t meant for you.” This emphasis on marriage and reaching the wedding bells can lead individuals to excuse toxic behavior or fail to put themselves first, causing them to lose sight of who they are. Rather, they resign to being defined by their significant other and submit to being their idea of a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”

Dating for the sake of dating not only presents several personal benefits but also is conducive to the probable idea that “the one” is often not found on the first try — Modern Gentleman actually states that men, on average, have six relationships before marriage, while women have five. And with this statistic, dating to marry five or six times before finding “the one” would just about make me lose my faith in humanity with every failed attempt — maybe even quit the practice altogether. But the mindset of dating to date opens one up to the prospect of dating for themselves. Elite Daily says that dating someone new teaches a person a lot about themselves, including “your deal breakers” and “what you like about yourself,” as well as about sacrifices and your future. These lessons not only help one grow as a person, but also manage their expectations for a marriage. If one focuses so hard on dating to marry, they can lose out on these vital lessons, personal growth and the idea that some people are meant to be in your life for a reason at a certain time, even if not forever. The idea of finding love is a journey, and with every person, whether it be in a platonic or romantic context, one will make changes within this idea of what love is and who they are.

I’m not here to argue that dating to date will not come with its own share of heartache. And while saying one might have to endure a few heartbreaks before finding the one is a hard pill to swallow, it highlights the journey that is finding the one they want to spend their life with. And if dating were easy, it wouldn’t be worth much at all. It’s unique to every person that participates in the modern-day practice. And approaching it with a mindset that this person is not the be-all-end-all, but rather another step in our story, makes the idea a little more tolerable. Maybe even a little more romantic.

Julia O’Reilly is a sophomore majoring in biology.