We all long for a partner who will love us unconditionally. But when it comes to dating-the job interview of love-too many of us skip the delicious getting-to-know-you process, jumping too quickly from flirtation to full-blown romance. The problem is, this cut-to-the-chase approach tends to short-circuit true intimacy.

Of course, dating can be a little intimidating, like a final exam we don’t know the answers to: Do we make the first move? How long should we wait before calling him back? How can we tell if he’s interested? But getting to know a potential love doesn’t have to be so daunting. These tips will help you get past the first flutter of infatuation to the deep sharing that can lead to abiding love:

1. Adopt a positive attitude. Sometimes we get so bogged down in wondering if a date is “the one” that we forget simply to appreciate his company and have a good time. Don’t look at dating as a means to an end but as a process you can enjoy. “What we seek, we’re likely to get,” says New York counselor and life coach Jeree Wade. “So if you go in determined to enjoy yourself, the odds are that you will.”

2. Don’t wait to be asked. It’s one thing to trust that your soul mate is out there, but quite another to wait for him to be magically delivered to your doorstep. That old proverb “God helps those who help themselves” is as true for dating as for anything else. Instead of waiting to be chosen, feel free to do the choosing. “There’s nothing wrong with inviting someone to have a cup of coffee or share a meal,” Wade says. And if you ask in an easygoing, openhearted way, neither of you will feel pressured.

3. Make friendship the goal. Happily married couples will tell you that friendship is the glue of lasting love. So it follows that there is no better way to begin a wonderful romance. But if it becomes clear that your date is headed more toward the platonic than the romantic, think of it as an opportunity to learn more about men straight from the source. Even if he isn’t your soul mate, your date still could become a lifelong friend, the one you call when you want to catch that Star Trek marathon or want an escort for your cousin’s wedding.

4. Risk being yourself. Putting your best foot forward doesn’t mean you have to fudge the truth about your likes and dislikes or cover up your past. Dare to be your authentic self, to express what matters to you deeply. Of course, there are levels of intimacy, and you shouldn’t feel as if you have to reveal everything about yourself on the first date. But be open to sharing who you are in a natural way.

5. Include him in your social circle. Don’t turn dating into a project. Instead make it a part of your social life, just as you would hanging out with the girls. “When your consciousness is, I’ve got to find my husband, you’re putting the need for a man before everything else,” Wade says. Besides, it can make you seem desperate and turn men away. So aim for a fully rounded social life in which you routinely interact with men. And don’t hesitate to take a date to events that include family and friends. The way a man interacts with the people you love can speak volumes about the kind of person he is.

To read the entire article, “Yes, There Is a Love Out There for You,” pick up the August issue of ESSENCE.