7 Lessons for Love After Burning Man
No matter your relationship status, navigating love on and after the playa is tricky. Black Rock City operates on too little sleep and too many substances. Its citizens cast aside social norms — like avoiding strangers or wearing pants.
I’ve Burned while single, in a relationship, falling in love, and getting back together with an ex. I’ve found that as you adjust back to life in the default world, your body might be off the playa, but your heart is still processing what happened out there. Here’s some advice to help you honor and learn from your experience (and my mistakes):
1. Take a breath
Seriously. You’ve already heard this advice, but it’s true. Don’t break up with your partner or move across the country to live with your new soulmate until you’ve spent at least a few weeks considering it while back in the default world. In 2014 I really struggled with this after meeting someone new at Burning Man and watching it fall apart once we reentered our normal lives in San Francisco. I wish I’d taken a moment before attempting to rush into things.
2. Process your experience with your partner
Burning Man is extremely overwhelming, especially your first year. Reflect on what happened, what you learned, what scared you, what inspired you, and what you want to do individually and as a couple to keep those feelings alive. Your memories will start to fade, especially since Burning Man is one of the few places where people tend not to photograph or record every moment. Write down your favorite moments and share why they were meaningful to you. A few years ago, during my partner’s first Burn, he carried around a little notebook and recorded his thoughts and insights about the experience. One of my best memories from that year is when he shared his journal with me on the Burner Express Bus on the way home.
3. Learn from what you loved
What were some of your favorite activities to do together or separately during Burning Man? Find ways to incorporate these experiences into your daily lives. I enjoyed biking at Burning Man so much that I can home after my second year at bought a bike. My partner and I found that we loved biking together at Burning Man, so now we participate in the East Bay Bike Party, a monthly group bike riding experience. I have a friend who stumbled on a shibari workshop and liked what she experienced so much that she signed up for a follow up workshop at the Armory.
4. Create goals based on your playa epiphanies
Yes, you should wait a few weeks before making any major life decisions. But you should also honor the insights you had out there. Before you focus on a specific goal, explore the value behind it. You’re much more likely to find long-term success with value-based goals, rather than specific actions you think you “should” do. For example, one year I realized that I’d been investing more energy into adventure over friendships. I decided I wanted to focus more on creating a chosen family of friends because of my value of community. When I came back I started hosting potlucks at my house.
If you realized you want to start playing the trumpet again, perhaps this aligns with your value of learning or achievement. Share these insights with a friend and commit to these changes. Act now. Once you’ve identified your values, spend a few hours this week committing to actions that align with these values. Sign up for an improv class or invite friends to a camping trip in the fall. Put a monthly check-in on your calendar to see if you’re living up to these goals. Hold yourself accountable for integrating these changes into your life.
5. Discuss and forgive.
Burning Man puts people into alternate states of reality. If you or your partner said or did anything you regret, have a conversation about it. Why did it happen? What need were you trying to fill? What would you do if you could relive that moment? Research from Northwestern professor Eli Finkelsuggests that during an argument, if you can adopt a third party perspective who wants the best for both of you, it can buffer long-term relationships against the typical downward trajectory, making us happier and more passionate in our relationships.
6. Plan for next year.
Yes, you should conduct an inventory of your supplies and note it for next year. Want to bring more zip-ties? Should’ve ditched that tenth box of baby wipes? You should do the same thing for your relationship. Last year I came back and said I wanted to go on more solo adventures in the future. My partner said he may want to take a few years off. Some of my friends told me they hope to go on more playa dates with their significant others. Record anything you wish you’d tried or should probably avoid next time. Send yourself an email or write this down in a Google Doc that you can review before next year’s Burn.
7. Separate the experience from the ending.
Let’s say you met someone at the white party on Wednesday night and suddenly this person consumed your entire Burn. All week you went on dates, slept at each other’s camps, and ran into each other inexplicably. It has to be love, right? If you came back and the person or relationship doesn’t live up up to your expectations, that’s perfectly normal. Life is completely different in Black Rock City, and so are you, and so was this person. Accept your experience for what it was — something beautiful and fragile that wasn’t meant to survive outside exodus. Appreciate it for what it was and move on. This happened to me and I survived. In fact, I even camped with this person the next year, along with my current partner. It helps to remember: you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.