How to Stay in Love at Burning Man

by Ariel Root Wolpe

(Photo by Jenny Beatty)

(Photo by Jenny Beatty)

To Burners coming to Black Rock City for the first time in a romantic relationship,

You already know that Burning Man is a harsh environment — it’s hot as hell, there’s little natural life to be found, and a bad dust storm can wipe you out. But perhaps less known is that Burning Man is tough on relationships, in particular the romantic kind. In fact, the Burning Man website takes this seriously enough to offer a Relationship Survival Guide. But never fear — there are ways you can prepare yourself and your partner to make sure Burning Man is the best possible experience for each of you, your relationship, and for whatever group you are camping with.

Burning Man is like traveling to a different country (even for Americans) — you’re there for a limited time, and you will want to get the full experience, and you might even feel resentment at missing out on the things you want to do. There are many personal experiences to be had on the playa, and journeying alone can be equally as rewarding as exploring together.

We all go to Burning Man with certain expectations. The best thing you can do is share these with your partner honestly and thoroughly. “I want to feel free and go on unscheduled adventures” or “I want to look at lots of art and talk about it with you” needs to be said before you go. One approach is to designate which days you and your partner will meander together and which days you will do your own thing.

As you know, you and your partner are different people, and your desires inevitably conflict at certain times. Being on the same page before you get to the Burn is crucial. This means open, honest conversation beforehand about your needs from each other. Telling your partner “I need you to help me cook a meal every day” or “I need you to help me socialize with this new camp” will go a long way once you get to the Burn.

If you have any anxiety about the Burn, share it. Maybe you are nervous about the gravity of intoxicated people sucking you in, or the hundreds of hot, sweaty Burners biking across the playa. Just tell your partner so they know to be sensitive when certain situations arise.

(Photo by Jonathan Clark)

(Photo by Jonathan Clark)

If you are camping with a large camp, you are entering an intimate, emotionally sensitive community of people. Camps often cook, eat, party and go out together, and this experience creates intense bonds. In camp, your tents will be right next to each other. Everyone is able to hear everything in each other’s tents above a small whisper (this includes overhearing exciting sexcapades!). The camp trusts everyone else to bring conscientious, generous, and fun people into their close quarters, and difficult campmates have a really negative effect on the camp.

If you and your partner are fighting, in consistently bad moods, or have tension between you, it will keep you from connecting with campmates, it will detract from everyone’s experience, and it will reflect poorly on you and whoever brought you into the camp. It’s an intense environment, so if you do feel a squabble arising, keep it super quiet, go your separate ways to cool off, or have your full blown fight away from humanity in deep playa.

You both have to physically, mentally and emotionally plan ahead for the Burn. Make sure you can come together on common expectations and be okay with different needs and desires. You can have a fun, amazing time together if you come in with the right mindset, generous intentions, and with open hearts.

Mark Petersen
Mark Petersen

Ariel Root Wolpe is an artist, musician and rabbinical student living in Los Angeles, California. Her first Burn was in 2013.

42 Comments on “How to Stay in Love at Burning Man

  • Telly says:

    >“I want to feel free and go on unscheduled adventures.”

    Gents, if your GF makes you agree to something like this, make sure to do a panty check when she comes back to camp, because most likely they’ll be stuck to the ceiling of some deluxe RV on the other side of the playa. And don’t fall for, “Well, you can have unscheduled adventures too, honey.” Your unscheduled adventures won’t be anything like her unscheduled adventures.

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    • Jon Mitchell says:

      Heteronormativity aside, it doesn’t sound like there’s very much or very good communication going on in your little imaginary example there. That’s exactly what this post is about!

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      • Telly says:

        That’s very politically correct of you. I’ll try to be more inclusive towards homosexuals in all my generalizations about heterosexuals.

        For the afflicted cis gender males who are already roped into bringing their girlfriends to the playa, you’ll almost certainly learn the hard way if you’re not a captain of a cool artcar or theme camp, because in your GF’s eyes you cannot compete with these guys. She will look at them, then look at you, then look back at them, then look at you. You know what I’m saying…

        And even if she doesn’t hook up with one or more of these guys on her unscheduled adventures, the resentment will build throughout the week that you’re keep her from fulfilling her desires; you’re ruining Burning Man for her. This is one of the main reasons we see so many couples’ arguments starting from about Thursday night. It’s also the cause of so many men wandering around late in the week calling out their GF’s name as if she was a lost pet, “Jennifer? Jennifer? Has anyone seen Jennifer?”

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      • Jon Mitchell says:

        Telly, everything I’d say to respond to the love stuff you’re saying has been said now, but the fact that you feel a sense of competition with “captains” on the playa is too sad not to talk about, too. What in the world is the cause of that feeling? The people who toil to bring art cars and theme camps do it FOR YOU. They aren’t competing with YOU. Why do you feel so insecure around the makers — the male ones, of course — instead of inspired? And, like… have you ever talked to a female “captain”, or do you feel like you’re in a competition with them, too?

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      • Telly says:

        @Jon Mitchell
        >you feel a sense of competition with “captains”

        I think you’re projecting there, Jon. I’ve led esplanade camps and have built two art cars. I know what these sweet, innocent girlfriends who love their boyfriends more than the whole wide world – do, once they’re a safe distance from camp on their ‘unschedule adventures’ that their BFs have signed-off on in the interest of being understanding of her needs (meaning: to prevent future arguments) – they just don’t know what her needs actually are. “Just bring me back a cup of coffee, hun… Have fun!”

        >What in the world is the cause of that feeling?

        Dig deep, Jon. You’ll find the answers.

        Your other comments are just simply heterophobic. Why do you hate straight men? Don’t be bitter. We all need to get along.

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    • Desert Turtle says:

      “Unscheduled Adventures” doesn’t necessarily mean alone adventures. It could very well mean, “Let’s not plan where we go… Let’s just go and explore.”

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  • Ink says:

    She isn’t your pet. You dont own her. Let her go.

    Im sorry for the hurt you feel and the sense of loss and humiliation obviously causing your anger and resentment.

    Communicate. Understand boundaries and expectations can be fluid. Understand your expectations may not be your partners. Understand agape love and pair bonding arent necessarily exclusive of sexual attraction, eros, new emotional connections, and philia. Know that nothing you could have done would prevent someone from taking the path of their desire, and if you dont wish to be on the same path, nor should you try.

    Rather than a harbouring negative feelings, and paranoia that this is some inevidable ill fate that others need be made aware of, it might be best to attempt to move through the memory as a discovery of two beings with two different relationship ideals, rather than someone maliciously failing to meet your expectations.

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  • Sandy says:

    Leave your ball and chain at home. In fact if you’re not single, just stay home with your ugly children vanilla breeder

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  • Heidi Burbidge says:

    We camp with a trained therapist at Nectar Village. He saved our butts when I was having a moment of jealousy when my partner swiped a beautiful woman’s butt.

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  • It’s funny how everyone else is so right in what they’re saying, but Telly is so much more hilariously witty. I suppose pain inspires art. Telly, my advice: why don’t you go seduce girls while your girlfriend is seducing guys. You seem to think girls are only attracted to status. How about confidence? Charm? Boldness? Humor? Just make sure to hit on hundreds of girls a day, and your experience probably will compete with your girl’s

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    • Telly is a troll, but a useful one. I’ve come with my GF, and I’ve hooked up (different years :), but there are ALWAYS guys trolling to get laid. It can be pathetic, threatening or charming, but — PER OP’S ORIGINAL POINT — one must expect to meet the bad as well as the good.

      The world is full of Tellys whose pain and cardboard views of others can definitely ruin your day. Walk away and find someone compassionate.

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  • Telly says:

    >You seem to think girls are only attracted to status.

    They’re also attracted to money, power and fame. I suppose confidence, charm, boldness, humor doesn’t hurt, but they’re not high on the list.

    >why don’t you go seduce girls while your girlfriend is seducing guys

    Because girlfriends have a sixth sense about when another chick is about to fuck their boyfriends, and they will magically show up to cockblock you. That’s why I don’t bring them to BM anymore, I just borrow other guys’ girlfriends.

    >Just make sure to hit on hundreds of girls a day

    I dont’ have to. I’m the guy with the cool art car.

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    • Sam says:

      Girls have sixth sense when there is another chick wants to fuck their boyfriend even when she’s too busy fucking another guy?
      You have the cool art car so why are you still saying that her unscheduled adventure would be different than yours?
      Seems to me like she gets all the meat while you were left with nothing.Then you said girl automatically show up when there is another chick wants fuck you? I don’t think any girls who are to busy fucking another guy would have the time to keep a tab on their boyfriend unless you are lying

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  • Isabelle says:

    confidence, charm, boldness, humor ARE definitely higher on the list than money, power and fame (which i am not even sure merit being on the list). i find this discussion fascinating.

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    • Telly says:

      ‘The List’ is what most women are attracted to, not you or an individual specifically. It is generally true that most women are attracted to money, power and fame (high status). A man can be 5.4 and 200lbs, and as long as he’s on a successful television show (for example), when he enters a bar or club, he’ll have his pick of women over every other guy.

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  • Corri says:

    I liked the article. Very helpful. This is my 1st time and my boyfriend’s 2nd. We are both excited to volunteer and have discussed doing stuff together and separate. I agree as long as we communicate our fears and excitements we should be OK. That seems to be what has worked well for us so far :)
    I do have to say, the comments conversation gave me a bit of pause…
    (I think I got a lil creeped) but thanks to Telly, I am reminded opinions are not facts.

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    • Admarz says:

      Hey Corri, nobody gets a “Hall Pass” for being an asshole out there, but there will be times that one of you may lose their shit or not be on their best behavior due to lack of sleep/food/water… And let’s not forget, there’s lots of temptations out there. The key to making your relationship work in this harsh environment is to talk about EVERYTHING before you leave for the Playa, while you’re out there, and when you get home. I hope you have an AMAZING 1st burn!!!

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  • Admarz says:

    I was almost divorced because of Burning Man 12 years ago when I went without my wife, but it actually saved my marriage two years later when I brought my wife with me for the first time. However, it almost destroyed us last year due to me bringing way too many un-resolved issues to the Playa. So, the moral of THIS story… be prepared for anything and everything! Good luck my brothers and sisters :)

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  • JV says:

    The playa amplifies shit. If you’re bringing relationship problems, prepare for those feelings to intensify. If you’re in a good place with your partner, well, same thing.

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    • Colleen says:

      Right on, JV

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    • Nai`a NEWLIGHT says:

      Ummm… like drugs?

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    • Gloria says:

      Totally agree. If your girlfriend is a steeze before the burn, she will likely be a steeze at the burn. If you are one of the truly lucky individuals that get to experience Burning Man with someone you love, it’s just about the greatest thing in the world <3

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      • James says:

        My sentiments exactly, Gloria. Of the two of us, I’m the more likely to turn into a raging skank in any given situation. I thought I’d be an unstoppable monster when I arrived…and yet, I found that sex and scandal landed low on my to-do list, even without my wife’s sweet and gentle presence. So many people bring unfulfilled sexual desires to the burn, but when the person you’re with leaves you wanting little, you have the head-space to appreciate the truly lovely things around you.

        Oh, and we also went to the orgy dome and boned in front of a ton of people. That was fun. <3

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  • Nemo says:

    Telly the troll

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  • Andrea says:

    Wow… I’m so glad my husband doesn’t think that way. Jealousy is poison, and it will kill you as well as your relationships. I’m so looking forward to experiencing the burn with my better half.

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  • Colleen says:

    Oh man, the comments here make me sad. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    And Telly- talk about projection. I’d advise you leave your baggage at the gate. Not everyone will cheat, and you’re not helping any new burners by scaring them. Shake it off, and meet your playa queen this year=)

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    • Sam says:

      He’s not afraid that anyone would cheat ,he’s more afraid that his girl would get more action than he is…notice how he said his ex(presumably) always cockblocking him yet he believes she gets all the action at the playa so how can she even has the time to keep an eye on him,something’s not right here.

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  • Boogity says:

    Burning Man is the last place I’d want to cheat on my boyfriend. Nothing about being hot, dirty and exhausted makes me feel sexy.

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    • Cookie M. says:

      Totally agreed! I loved passing out alone at the end of a long, dusty night. I’m thinking about fitting two beds in our tent so I can still have my space to do just that! <3

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  • SC says:

    You can’t “cheat” if you have permission, so sign those permission slips and go and have a good time.

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  • HoneyBee says:

    I met my husband at Burning Man, he proposed at Burning Man, and now he stays home when I go – because that’s what works for us.

    Respect, trust and kindness are necessary ingredients in any kind of relationship. This is even more true when facing the demands and opportunities of the Playa.

    Be gentle with one another and don’t be an jerk.

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  • Cookie M. says:

    I’ve been a loner burner. Wander off from camp never to be seen until sunrise… and as I was single then, I chose not to “engage” with those desperate men seeking sexual validation. This year, it will be my first burn with my husband. His first time at the big burn. AND, I am volunteering with the Critical Incident Team (aka mental health). This article was a good reminder for communicating expectations well before we get there. I like to get too confident about our ability to communicate and defuse any issues. I hope others take it a bit seriously too. Especially in newer relationships or first big adventure together!

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