Even if you've never been to Burning Man, you're familiar with the concept: 70,000 strangers in the desert plus art, music, camping, drugs, spiritual journeys. Depending on who you are, it sounds like either a helluva good time or just hell.
Personally, the camping element alone would be enough to set me on edge, but apparently for people in relationships the whole ordeal presents a unique set of challenges.
This week, someone in a Burning Facebook group I'm part of asked, "Couples, what are your tips and tricks to keep your relationships intact through the burn?" The responses ranged from "don't go," to "don't camp together" to "group sex." It seems the veterans know to have thorough conversations about everything from poly arrangements to time management expectations—and to drink a shitload of water.
In the interest of providing cautionary tales for noobs, and mostly out of morbid curiosity, I asked a bunch of burners to share their relationship meltdowns from the festival:
Poor choice for a Tinder date
Basically I wanted to go to Burning Man super badly and I managed to come across tickets. I had to decide on the spot whether I was going to be going or not and I had no idea who I was going to go with. My mind flashed back to this guy I met on Tinder. He wanted to convert an old school bus and do a tour of a festival. I was like "Hey do u wanna go to Burning Man and also I wanna do a three-week road trip." The second time we met was right before the trip. He had different expectations of what was going to be happening, I wasn't really romantically interested in him and it became evident during the trip. We flew to Vancouver, rented a car, and went down the whole west coast all the way to San Francisco and drove to the burn. He was the one driving the whole time. He just had a short temper, I screwed up one direction we were going and he wouldn't speak to me for three hours. He had an incredibly large ego that I clashed with; he was just running around saying "My nickname is Dick Tracy cause I have a really big dick and I run Ironmans." We were sharing a tent and the only time we ever both slept in it was one really late night, which was incredibly freezing. I was like "can you cuddle to keep me warm" and he said no. He was pissed off at me the whole time. He tried to get revenge on me and make me jealous with a woman that's older than his mother. We were in the orgy zone, we all went in there together, so he just started to completely ignore me and just went after her. And afterwards we had a tire burst, we literally had a non-stop drive from Burning Man to Vancouver. The car ended up costing $1,000 more than what was expected. I paid for the whole trip, he paid for the car and I paid for everything else. He still owes me money. He got really angry that I asked him for the money. He exploded and then blocked me on all social media. —Tamara M., 25
I met him at the burn the year prior and I moved down (to Texas) like six months before the next burn. He was very dead set on me doing certain drugs that I was not comfortable with. It was fine for a few days and then I was given this thing I didn't know and nobody knew what it was and I was high for 14 hours and it was terrifying. He just kind of disappeared and I didn't see him for probably about 10 hours. And then I just didn't want to talk to him after that I ended up going back to Texas, buying a ticket, and going home.
If you meet somebody at the burn and you fall in love just kind of keep your head on because everything seems more intense when you're there. You're very separated from reality. - Lily*, 30
Performance art make-up
My husband and I, we're very similar in a lot of ways but in some ways we're very different. I'm very happy to wander without a watch, I hate watching my phone. When we first burned together we had a really difficult time just in the sense of him being able to embrace a lot of the chaos of Burning Man, so much so that he had to leave. He had told a bunch of us to come on back to camp, "I'm going to cook this really nice dinner, this really nice curry dish" and on my way home I ran into a bunch of people and really bonded with a bunch of women there. You have no watch, no concept of time. I came wandering back and he was furious, it turned out none of us had showed up. It was really disrespectful of us in some ways. We had to sit down with him and have an intervention and explain you need to learn to let go and experience the moment. That was the main reason why he just one day was like "I have to go." He literally got on this little kid's bike and went for a hike up the mountain to look down onto Burning Man; he had to spend a whole day outside of Burning Man away from everyone, just to kind of digest it. But I think one of our favourite moments was, I stormed off after a very, very big argument and he knew which art piece I would probably go to. It was this beautiful set of lotus flowers that you could sit inside and they had comfortable cushions. There was no one around and so we had a really good makeout session which was pretty wild and crazy and these people came by, we didn't notice, and I guess about five or 10 people thought we were doing performance art until someone went "No, I think they're just fucking." —Christine, mid-40s
Kerosene will fuck you up
I went out the first night, she was like "I'm gonna go to sleep." I fell asleep as she was getting up. Again, night comes and I'm like "I'm gonna go and party" and again the sun is rising and I have to power back to get some sleep. The third day the same thing happened. She was like "I'll go party." At this point I hadn't slept in three days. She was like "I haven't seen you in three days, and it looks like you're dying." I was kind of sick for the last four days 'cause of lack of sleep, sunstroke and I accidentally consumed some kerosene when I was filling these kerosene lamps, which makes you violently ill for 24 hours. It was just a dumb move. She was definitely pissed off at me for the rest of the week about that. The first half the week was me going hard and enjoying myself and the last half of the week was me trying to make amends, so being much better behaved. —Shane, 32
Introvert vs. extrovert
At the burn there's so much mental stimulation, there's a hundred million things to see and do. We also do a lot of stuff together at the camp. We eat dinners together. You pay one camp fee and that includes all your food, water, shelter, everything. If you're in a relationship you have to be there for your partner but on the other side, you're part of the camp and there are things you need to do for that camp. The second time we went, I don't think she was as fully integrated into my social group and that created a lot of friction where she was like, "I wanna go off and do my own thing," but I was like "but we're part of this camp," and that created a whole lot of tension and it led to a couple of blowouts on the playa. At night I was like, "I wanna go out and do all the crazy things" and she was like "it's too cold." She wanted to sleep the entire time, she slept like maybe 10 hours a day, it was crazy. And we're very different people, I'm an extreme extrovert and she's a hardcore introvert. For years the relationship had dealt with that in different ways but at Burning Man it's extremely hard. Things just sort of festered and festered and on the day before the Man Burn we had this crazy shitty argument in the middle of the playa. We were like screaming at each other shouting. There was a lot of crying. Basically that experience at Burning Man I really think led us to break up six months later. Even though it was my fourth time going, I learned a lot more about myself and I think she did the same too and we kind of realized after that we aren't compatible. The stress and visual, sensual stimulation really helped kind of bring that out. —Jonathan, 32
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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