This article originally appeared in the 2016 edition of the BRC Weekly
Let’s get something straight right from the jump – we are an infestation here. This desert has been attempting to kill everything that touches it for 6,000 years longer than the existence of what we would loosely define as human civilization. That includes you, just about everything in your tent, those ridiculous furry boot covers you brought, your stupid DJ gear, and yes, your relationship. Fuck – ESPECIALLY your relationship. And that goes as equally for your small “r” relationships as it does the big “R” ones.
Burning Man is all about paradox. On the one hand, the nature of an economy built exclusively on social transactions creates an opportunity to build deep, lifelong relationships. On the other, it can simultaneously smash those same connections like a plane crash in the same afternoon. This has always been a dangerous place. The process of deciding who’s “in charge” of building your 30-foot tall penis tower art piece is more likely to immolate the bonds of your friendships than it is to topple over and crush you all to death itself – even WITH all your shitty, amateur workmanship.
Assuming this isn’t your first year, Burning Man possibly started fucking up your relationships before you even got here this week. Before you started coming out to this shit show, you were probably considered a reasonable person by your co-workers. They were happy to go out to Applebee’s with you and discuss the gossip of the day, while you sloshed back hurricanes and jager shots after a long day at Forever 21 (or wherever the fuck it is you work at the mall).
Now, as far as they know, you’ve joined some stupid cult that you won’t shut the fuck up about, and suddenly, everybody just needs to go straight home after work.
If Burning Man can make you an insufferable dick to those while you are all still in a climate-controlled environment with working plumbing, imagine what it can do to someone who actually gives a shit about you after several days in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. This shit could fuck up that couple from The Notebook. Imagine what it’s gonna do to YOU guys.
Maybe right this second, you’re reading this sitting next to your special someone you came out here with. You guys are kicking it in the shade at camp or on some hanta virus-infected couch at Center Camp, playing footsies, reveling in the magic of the Burn. You guys planned for months, and built a cute little shade structure together with a totes adorbs little message board with both your names and some hearts on it, for friends to leave messages on. Well, guess what? I have terrible news. Do you know how many other people they’ve thought about fucking, besides you, since you got here? AS MANY AS YOU HAVE. That’s right. And if monogamy is a big deal to you, then you better hope to god that they’re more faithful than their options. Because believe me, this is Black Rock Fucking City – and they have options. WAY more options than your marginally-fuckable ass does. Feel that jealousy starting to bubble up? See? It’s happening already. Now, the next time she has an otherwise completely harmless conversation with Sensitive Yoga Guy – you get to turn into a total asshole. #thanksburningman
(EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE – if Sensitive Yoga Guy either mentions the words “goddess worship,” or has those words printed on a sign somewhere in his camp, it’s okay to hit him. He’s likely a sexual predator. Also: “goddess worship” is code for “no fat chicks”)
It’s not just that – it’s literally EVERYTHING. Sleep deprivation, malnutrition, around the clock substance abuse, poor hygiene. A near endless parade of things slowly turning you into the most difficult-to-be-around version of yourself if you let them go unchecked – and your baby boo is at ground zero of the blast zone.
And that’s assuming your shit hasn’t gone pear-shaped already. I’ve seen couples break up on the drive TO the burn. That’s right – Burning Man can fuck you up PROACTIVELY. For someplace that’s supposed to be (and is) a lot of fun, everything about this place is HARD. Getting here is hard, eating here is hard, sleeping here is hard. Even busting a grumpy is a fucking endurance test in this bitch. Why would something as delicate and potentially volatile as your relationship be any different?
Does this mean you and your relationship are doomed out here?
Probably. But if you’re completely honest with yourself, you already were anyways. Burning Man just sped that shit up.
You see, Burning Man doesn’t just BUILD socially-crippling character flaws – it REVEALS them. Whatever shit was bubbling just below the surface back in the real world will come to a boil out here. One week at Burning Man is like a YEAR in the “Default World.” Ergo, if you are in a relationship that you figure at best could probably go on for about 12 months or so before you both move on, then you guys can just go ahead and plan on booking separate hotel rooms in Reno for the trip back.
So how do you do it? How do you make it out of here still a couple? To be honest, it’s not really all that fucking different than it is in the Default World. I have personally torched a few relationships out here – but I’ve also made this shit work too.
The first step is you actually need is to be in a relationship with somebody that fucking understands you. I can’t stress that enough.
If you are in the right relationship, even the dumbest thing you do shouldn’t be much of a surprise to your partner. Now, my wife is pretty famous around these parts, and those of you that know her, know what an incredibly talented, powerful lady person she is. But to me, one of the most incredible things she does everyday is NOT FIRE ME. A surprising amount of the annoying things about me are at least sort of funny to her. Most of the time if I do something stupid, at worst she’s just going to make fun of me and we’re going to move on sooner than later. If you can’t say that about your relationship, then you’re fucked. Burning Man or not.
In preparation for writing this article, I quickly grazed over a bunch of stuff other people had written about making your relationship “Burning Man-proof.” Apparently, this is a big enough deal that there is actually a Relationship Survival Guide on the Burning Man website. Here is the combined wisdom of my personal experience, along with some shit I ripped off from other, much more deeply earnest people.
Cut each other some slack
This place is a never-ending series of distractions, and the distance between what you THINK you are going to do at any point in the day vs. what you ACTUALLY end up doing can be measured in light years. Your partner can tell you that they are just headed out to get some ice, and end up coming back three hours later because they ended up getting involved in trying to set the world’s record for the world’s longest conga line or some shit. Ain’t nobody got a working cell phone out here, and at any given minute of the day you are probably only a few feet away from someone that could use some help doing something that you’ll probably end up laughing about on your death bed. Maybe try letting some shit slide a couple times a day when it comes to scheduling. You’ll be glad you did – particularly when it’s your turn to get distracted.
Drink some more goddamn water!
I know everybody thinks that water is the solution to every fucking problem here. The thing is – it kinda is. If you can feel yourself starting to say dickish, hair-trigger things, try pounding a liter of water and see if you are still an asshole.
Be honest about your boundaries
This is a place where people do things they probably would never do back home. Particularly when it comes to trying out some poly shit. Trust me – polyamory is A LOT harder than it looks on paper. If you think just being with one person requires a lot of emotional processing and debate, just wait till you see what happens when that turns into 3 or 4 people. Group sex – while totally fucking awesome at the time, can turn into a lot of long, really boring conversations the next day where everyone needs to “process.” You need to have a ROCK SOLID relationship to negotiate some shit like this. Make goddamn sure you are both down for it LONG BEFORE it happens rather than after. You probably aren’t as morally flexible as you think you are, and oftentimes, a snap decision you made at the moment so you wouldn’t end up looking like a prude, can often turn you into a total dick later.
Don’t do everything together
Spend some time apart. Allow each other to wander off with other friends every now and then. It’s a great way to build trust, and more importantly, everyone needs a break from feeling responsible for someone else’s second-to-second experience a couple times a day. Crowdsource that shit.
Check in with each other
Conversely, have some set point in the day when you know you’ll both hang out together, preferably just the two of you. Without watches or cell phones, it’s gonna work a lot better if you have a predictable routine. Think of it like having a planned family meeting spot in case of a natural disaster – but for your relationship.
Now that’s all well and good, but let’s suppose shit does go rubber side up on you. Now what? Here are some guidelines for when it all goes to hell:
Go to separate corners for a night or two
It’s a big fucking desert. Maybe you should just get out of each other’s grill for a minute.
Don’t fight in camp
Holy fucking shit, this is a big one. In fact, you can ignore every other word in this entire fucking article if you promise you can just remember this one goddamn thing. Tents aren’t walls – and a lot of people went through a lot of fucking trouble to get here, and it ain’t their fault that you two are being dicks to one another. So stop turning your camp into the set of the Jerry Springer Show. Wanna scream and go nuts on each other? TAKE THAT SHIT OUT TO THE DEEP PLAYA. Good drugs are expensive, and none of us are trying to fuck up our trip listening to you guys act out an episode of Cops.
Agree to circle back to this in the Default World
Not every problem has a solution out here. Not even MATH works half the time in this shithole. Agree to let it go, have your own separate experience, and then see if you can work this out on the outside of the devil’s pinball machine that is Black Rock City. This is no place for delicate work.
Sober up, eat some real food, and get some sleep
Afterwards, if you’re still a dick, at least you’ll have the benefit of knowing that the problem is YOU.
So there you have it. You probably won’t get better advice than this – and I don’t mean that in a good way. More than anything else out here, you just gotta learn to let shit slide. Your second biggest enemy out here – after the “Old Testament wrath of an angry god” stuff that is this desert itself – are your own stupid expectations.
At Burning Man, you aren’t always gonna get what you want – but you are always gonna get something good if you can get the fuck out of your own way. Ironically, if you can learn to stop giving a fuck, you get a lot better fucks in return. Just trust me on that one…