I’ve gone on a lot of first dates. 40, to be exact. I know this because I turn every single guy I go out with into a Horcrux. So, you’re going to have to kill a bunch of white boys named Dan if you ever truly want to get rid of me.

Dating has taught me a lot about the world and myself. I thought I’d share these learnings so you can spare yourself (and your wallet) some heartache. I hope it’s relevant for you—whether you’ve been on 1 date or 100.

Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned from my 40 first encounters.

Honesty Really is the Best Policy

I don’t like to be forthcoming with my feelings—especially when I think it will upset or disappoint others. So, I lie or distance myself instead.

I’ve lied my way out of second dates by faking illness or last-minute commitments. I’ve acted unenthused over text hoping they’d just get the “hint.” I’ve escaped early relationships by saying I was too stressed or emotionally unavailable to engage.

These behaviors SUCK.

People deserve the truth—even when we feel it’s inconvenient or unwarranted.  When we string someone along, we prevent them from pursuing other romantic opportunities. When we focus entirely on our own fears and feelings, we forget the person on the other end.

If you’ve only gone on two or three dates, they won’t be devastated if you call it quits. They’ll survive if you turn down a second date. Yes, they may be upset if you wait until the 10th date to tell them you don’t see a romantic future. But they’ll appreciate that you told them before things got too serious.

Being honest isn’t easy, but it’s always for the best. If you’re unwilling or uninterested in being honest and respectful, you should reconsider dating altogether.

Follow Your Instinct

Dating experts will say you should go on at least a few dates before deciding your feelings about someone. While I generally agree with this advice, I’d argue you know what you want before then.

I’ve gone on multiple dates with guys because I thought I needed to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’ve blamed the absence of chemistry on my own perceived emotional shortcomings or issues. I’ve tried to talk myself into relationships I didn’t actually want because I thought they were what I was supposed to want.

Your wants and needs don’t always change over time. If someone isn’t meeting your wants by the third date, they most likely never will. And that’s okay!

Don’t feel bad about a lack of connection. Don’t try to force feelings because you think this person should be the one. Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t pursue it. The right person will come along.

Imagining ‘What if?’ is Useless

Sometimes when I’m lonely (or drunk) I stalk exes on Instagram and think about what things would be like if I hadn’t royally screwed everything up. Would we still be dating if I hadn’t let myself get so scared? Would I be the guy in his sappy Instagram post if I had tried a little harder?

The reality is—you will sabotage yourself and fuck up potential relationships. You’ll hurt well-intentioned people because you’re afraid of getting hurt. You’ll push people away because you’re not sure how to let them in. You’ll call it quits before you give it a real try.

But just because you ended things badly, doesn’t mean they were right in the first place. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t waste energy imagining what things would be like if you had handled your shit differently.

Live in the here and now. Accept things weren’t meant to be, and that you can’t change the past.  Don’t fixate on what your life could have been. Focus on what it could be.

Who We’re Interested in Says A Lot About Us

I’ve gone out with every type of guy. Ivy-league educated assholes who think a diploma outweighs human decency. Sensitive baristas who are more interested in their passion than their paycheck. Guys who are talkative over text and monosyllabic in person. One guy who thought his coat collection was an acceptable conversation topic.

I’ve learned that who I like and don’t like says a lot about me. I find myself turned off by guys who don’t have typical 9-5 jobs because I’m judgmental and have a narrow view of what success looks like. I call it quits with guys who are goofy and overly affectionate because I feel uncomfortable with people who can share their affection so easily. I pursue guys who aren’t truly interested in me because I think attraction is something that must be earned.

I’ve let my baggage and preconceived notions shape how I see potential partners. And that’s DUMB. You can never know what a person thinks, or feels, or aspires to be without asking them. You can’t know what they value or why they think the way they do.  Sometimes we find ourselves turned off by people because they symbolize something in ourselves we don’t like. We avoid them because they challenge our way of seeing the world.

And instead of avoiding these people or writing them off, we should give them a chance. Challenge your preconceived notions. Because these people are often the ones who change our outlook on life for the better.

You Have to Love Yourself First

RuPaul likes to say, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Which is like the most profound statement about dating.

Dating’s not fun if you don’t love yourself. Dating magnifies your insecurities and brings new ones to the surface—even when things are going well! It makes you push away people who are good for you and cling to the ones who aren’t.

I didn’t love myself for a long time. I thought if I found someone who loved me, I’d finally be able to love myself. And guess what: it didn’t happen. Instead of loving myself, I became fearful and paranoid. I convinced myself the love I was given wasn’t real, and that it was entirely conditional. I screwed things up because, on some level, I thought I didn’t deserve good things.

The love of others can never replace the love you have for yourself. You’ll never be able to love who you are when you’re with someone else if you can’t love who you are when you’re alone.

I’ve gone on plenty of terrible first dates. I’ve ghosted and been ghosted. I’ve been on both ends of the “we should just be friends” spiel. I’ve kissed guys I didn’t want to kiss and I’ve given my body to guys who didn’t deserve it.

And after 40 first dates, I’m still single.

Do I regret going on those 40 first dates? Of course not. They’ve shaped me—for better and worse. They’ve depleted my bank account and challenged my sense of self. They’ve shown me that opening yourself up to the idea of love is probably the bravest, coolest thing you can ever do.