There’s a reason so many Burning Man friendships don’t work out anywhere else

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Yep – it’s that time again.  Dammit.

I hate that time.

You’ve shaken the dust off, caught up on sleep, detoxed your system, dragged your ass to work, put the pieces of your life back together, and found a place to store the giant copper monkey head you swore you’d take good care of because it meant so much to that one guy who … as of the Core Burn … was your best friend in the whole world.

Now it’s time to admit it:   that that guy’s never going to actually come visit you.  And, worse, you’re probably never going to email him.

In fact, virtually every goddamn one of the people who you magically fell in love with at Burning Man and swore undying devotion to after you realized they were the missing piece of your soul probably can’t actually be bothered to keep in touch outside of Facebook.

And neither can you.

Because … you’d like to, but … you’re busy.  It’s your mom’s birthday.  Or something.

I’d been through summer camp syndrome before, but I wasn’t prepared for the first time I made soul mates at Burning Man who disappeared in the default world.   I mean, they were my new family!  This was where I belonged!   If what we’d been through together wasn’t friendship and love, what possibly could be?  What kind of person doesn’t follow-up after something like that?

The one-two punch of this existential crisis was the realization that I wasn’t trying very hard either.

I hated them;  I hated myself.  Then I got over it, and had lunch.

The unpalatable truth is that very few of the people I’ve met at Burning Man are actually a part of my life the other 51 weeks a year.  I’ve been profoundly intimate with them, but outside of the desert I can’t expect them to show up at my birthday party, let alone bail me out of jail.

The experiences of trust and love and comradeship we have in the desert don’t seem to translate well into the rest of our lives.

This isn’t only a Burning Man thing – I’m sure it also happened to people who followed the Dead, spent time in the army, or were trapped in a well together.  I doubt that the rescued Chilean miners hang out over the weekends reminiscing about how they used to pee in the same bucket.  Liminal experiences are, by definition, liminal, and all you get to take back from them are knowledge, wisdom, and the occasional magic copper monkey head.  That’s just the way it is.

But Burning Man pries open our psyches in a rare fashion:  to thrive in this environment you have to open yourself up to radical possibility.  That makes it easier to make friends, fall in love, feel connections, and share psychic space – not because the other people are so special but because you have discovered how to say “yes” more often and more deeply.  When you get back to the real world, where you are constantly saying “no,” it’s hard to keep that going.  Those beautiful intimacies disappear.

Your mileage will vary, but most burners I know suffer through this disappointment to some degree every year … or have made their peace with it and long ago stopped expecting anything more from the people who say “I love you” on the playa.  I don’t know which is more sad.

But we keep coming back, and I think that part of the reason it’s easy to feel isolated and betrayed by these intimacies-that-were-never-really-commitments is that we don’t have a label for them in English.

“Comrades” implies certain kinds of obligations;  “friends” implies others;  “lovers” still more.  But we have no word for what we most readily find at Burning Man:   intimacy without obligation.  Time-sensitive love.  Impermanent family.  A real and profound connection … and oh yes, it is real and profound … that floats away on the breeze.

If we could call people each other that … that … thing … whatever it is … going in, instead of “friends” or “boyfriend/girlfriend/lover” … it might make it easier to take when that’s exactly what it turns out to be.

“Ships passing in the night” is in the ballpark, but clumsy and powerless and too much of a cliché to satisfy.    A Buddhist teacher of mine in Sri Lanka used to say that “We are all Dharma Beings,” meaning impermanent.  “We constantly appear and disappear from each other’s lives.”  I kind of like that.

Munney, a Media Mecca team captain, suggested “Burner Buddies.”  It has a good ring.

Dharma Beings … Burner Buddies … I’d like it if a witty term caught on (suggestions, please?), but I guess what I’m saying is that it’s unfortunately easy to go into Black Rock City, which only exists for a week, and assume that the people you meet most intensely will be fixtures in your life.

It’s lovely if it’s true – and the burner weddings that happen off-playa prove that some people find a connection that lasts.  But perhaps the post-burn depression would be easier to manage for some of us if we went in understanding that these unusually powerful relationships are usually transient.  That you go to a liminal city to have a liminal experience, and in a way become someone new while you’re there.  And that you have deep, profound, meaningful experiences with people who are also someone different while they are there … and that everything but the feelings is going to vanish in the exodus.

And that’s okay.  Amazing, even.

It would be a stretch to say I’ve made a lot of friends at Burning Man, but I’ve got the best fucking Burner Buddies in the world.

And a giant copper monkey head.

And … maybe … over time, an enhanced capacity to say “Yes.”

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at)


For the record, I got the idea for this essay on the playa this year when I said to some people “There should be a word for the people we feel a profound, life-changing, connection to out here and then never keep up with.” 

The immediate reaction was “Oh God, yes!”

I even showed a draft of this post to a couple of people, basically asking “It’s not just me, right?”  And all of them said the issues expressed here spoke to them. 

Which is to say, I did wonder “is it just me?” and was told decisively “no.”

That said, reading AG and EggChairSteve’s responses below it becomes clear to me that what I was focusing on was a particular facet of friendships made at Burning Man, and not the whole picture.  But all of us are talking about an extreme reaction:  either we found lifelong friends who are there for us through thick and thin (” these friendships have lasted longer & burned brighter than any I’ve had.”;  “vast majority of my (default world) friends, companions, lovers I met through the burn”) or … we found a desert full of dharma beings.  Both are fairly unusual.

This suggests to me that there is something different about the potential for and kind of relationships to be found at Burning Man:  something worth exploring is happening here, and I don’t think we have a good handle on what it is yet.

But yes, I’ll cop to having overemphasized one of the polarities.

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

56 Comments on “There’s a reason so many Burning Man friendships don’t work out anywhere else

  • Andie Grace says:

    Interesting. My experience has been quite oppoisite. The campmates I met at Motel 666 fifteen years ago, only one of whom I had met before Burning Man) have sustained and grown into the closest friends in my life. These relationships were 100% playa-forged.

    The Motel isn’t even a camp any more, but some of us still camp together. A huge swath of the group is still tight. We go camping together. Attend each others’ weddings. We’ve started companies together. We share dinners, new rug rats weaving around our feet, and bring each other casseroles when babes are born or surgeries due. If I’m sad, the top 5 people I’d call would likely be from that original group of strangers who welcomed me into their camp in 1997, or friends I met on the Media Team. Another set of friend I helped with their Burning Man film (who I found I just loved hanging out with because we had such fun on the playa) became BFF’s and today they’re my child’s godparents.

    YMMV, you did say! Friendship these days is an inscrutable thing to quantify, but the case study of my own life is that these friendships have lasted longer & burned brighter than any I’ve had.

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  • eggchairsteve says:

    I have to completely and totally disagree with this post. I vast majority of my (default world) friends, companions, lovers I met through the burn… many who n o longer even go to burning man continue to be huggly part of the fabric of my life.

    The more I re-read the above, the more I disagree with it…. how are any actions on playa ANY different that anywhere else, at any time? Yes, the burn provides an almost magical environment for people to meet, interact and be with others, but all of it is just concentrated reality that exists in everyday ‘normal’ interactions…

    The above honestly makes me question any genuine honesty you might be experiencing on playa?

    Real is real. Of course Burning Man is an experiment. But the lessons we learn HAVE to be translated to everyday life, otherwise you may be selling hyour self short.

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  • Caveat Magister says:

    @AG & EggChairSteve:

    I’ve responded in the post-script above. I appreciate you sharing your stories.

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  • Jessica M says:

    I like your perspective and positive outlook on your feeling the transient vibe. I too have had an opposite effect from the Burning Man experience. My best male friend was someone I met at Burning Man. He later became my roommate. I have met several of my current friends at Burning Man or through Burning Man events and other burners. I think that if you put in a some effort in to maintaining a friendship, you’ll notice that it is typically returned, and a stronger bond of friendship can be created. If not, maybe you’ll recognize someone you haven’t seen since last year’s burn out on the playa and become instant friends again! :)

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  • Fiver says:

    I think the silent vast majority will nod their heads in agreement with your post, but the people who comment will be the minority who disagree.

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  • Samsa Lila says:

    I absolutely adore this post, it is my favorite yet.
    Even though its different for everyone, this is a good initial approach.
    Rock on. Amazing.

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  • Samsa Lila says:

    I also agree with the comments as well as the piece. I think there are many perspectives, and they are all “true”. The thing is, most of the time people talk about the ones that survive, but rarely are we not afraid to talk about the darker side of these relationships, the more fleeting stuff. I think this is a fresh perspective.
    When I meet someone on the playa, I do overall live in the moment, but the me underneath is always trying for a true friendship that will last, not a fleeting one. However, this piece of writing does prepare one for the fleeting kind. You just never know sometimes. It’s good to have some writing to let you know you are not crazy :)

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  • amoeba says:

    TARs: Temporary Autonomous Relationships.

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  • Ora says:

    I totally agree with this regular occurrence, but I wholly disagree with the negative feelings associated.

    I feel that when I go to the playa, I find brothers and sisters I’ve never met before. We join closely and then go our separate ways at the end of the event. This does NOT mean we don’t maintain positive and close feelings for each other. This does NOT mean the next time we see each other we won’t be hugging as if we’d kept up all that time in the year between.

    The common fallacy is to believe that just because you don’t see, hear from, or interact with a person that the relationship diminishes. I know many friends who have since moved from Chicago to the West Coast, very very dear friends, whom I haven’t seen in nearly three years. And in fact, the same is true for my having moved to rural Michigan away from Chicago. Many Chicago burners I haven’t seen for years. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about them.

    The key is to accept that life happens, and never let that get in the way of genuine human connection. It’s a skill that takes learning, but when both parties understand it, you’ll never be apart.

    Much love to the brothers and sisters I have yet to meet, and all the ones before.

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  • Andie Grace says:

    “Real is real. Of course Burning Man is an experiment. But the lessons we learn HAVE to be translated to everyday life, otherwise you may be selling hyour self short. ”

    Eggchair for president!

    Yes, the thing I think the post was missing before, O friend Caveat who I OH WAIT! met on the playa, was mention that this was a facet, not the whole picture. And yes, there is something where our hearts open up to strangers a little more in that liminal space, and that may be the part that is a lot harder to bring home.

    On the other hand, I enjoy being overtly friendly to people I meet (on the street, at the corner store, etc.) in San Francisco, too…but over the years I haven’t befriended every one of them, either. I certainly know there ARE playa friendships – only the “work in the real world” portion of being a friend can turn someone into your friend — and I’m not denying the phenomenon.

    But then, we don’t tend to talk, in my experience, about our outside lives when we meet strangers there. “So, whaddya do??” Nobody’s asked me that at a BRC cocktail party.

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  • Trilo says:

    A very good post, but my mileage certainly does vary. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met and befriended people on the playa that I don’t see or keep up with much in defaultia… but I’ve also met and connected with a ridiculous number of close friends either at or through the event.

    Burning Man is a place where we make fast friends. But that doesn’t mean that many of those friendships aren’t also lasting.

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  • Andie Grace says:

    (that’s to say, thank you for adjusting and allowing that it isn’t universally true, o author.)

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  • CULT says:

    not directed towards the autor. You gotta learn to read through the bullshit. People kept saying,”i cant believe this happens here at Bman.” Well everything happens there, reasons why i thank the cops for being there.
    Much love – Stay true to yourself and fk the world!

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  • The Hun says:

    I really enjoy the playa’s ephemeral relationships and acquaintances. My favorite experience at Burning Man is just to go out on foot and meet people randomly, maybe walk together for an hour or two, and part without exchanging contact information. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve experienced, just to share a brief moment of communion and communication with another receptive soul. As an introvert, I often feel intimidated by the prospect of meeting people in the outside world, because it comes with a potential burden of having to commit to future meetings. I very much prefer meeting people out here, firstly because I know they will have a similar mindset to mine, and secondly because there is no inherent commitment. I don’t think I’ve ever met a “new best friend” out here that I’ve attempted to stay in touch with — excepting of course my DPW crew mates, who have become some of my most treasured comrades. Now THOSE are friends that would bail me out of jail (god forbid!). But we have eight weeks to get to know each other, so it’s a very different situation.

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  • Brown Sugar says:

    I loved reading this, and I must say, yes I have met lovely people that i don’t hear back from until I go back to Playa and then we reconnect as if time has never passed (obviously there is the 1 month prior to BM email to ask the projected whereabouts, so we could reconnect). or that i never heard from all together. But I also met this great guy at Playa this past BM that I am still dating, who knows if it will last or not (I’m gay, not a girl by the way), but things are looking up, so sometimes these wonderful experiences in Playa do transcend to the default world.

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  • BrotherMichael says:

    Lasting relationships take commitment, maintenance, communication and effort.
    If you did not ask for your new playa mate’s phone number or e*mail address, and if you did not make several attempts to contact them after the burn, then YOU are responsible for the relationship not translating to the default world.
    Myself, when I meet someone on the playa, am willing to put in the effort to migrate the relationship to the default world, and have met many people on the playa that play an important role in my default world life.
    That’s MY story.

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  • Dang. I just started writing this over completely again. Apparently it is not as clear to say as I had hoped.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I am not very good at relationships. Further, it is socially unacceptable to behave poorly when things don’t go well. It is unpleasant if I meet someone I like but the other person is unwilling to reciprocate (e.g. doesn’t feel the same, or more likely, is in an exclusive relationship or has other artificial boundaries). I put out the fire and feel sad and move on. The more of my heart I let run the show, the bigger the fire. So the more it hurts, and the less I want to try. It’s sad that the society I live in is so opposed to heartfelt connection for fear of the risks it incurs.

    I don’t know exactly why, but at Burning Man things work differently. Perhaps because I’m not blocked by society from feeling in a heartfelt way that there is no real hurt from rejection. Or maybe it’s because the only reason I’m rejected if it’s honest-to-goodness “I don’t like you”. I can deal with that. I don’t like being told, “well, I would love you with all my heart, but I travel a lot for work, so it’s better if I don’t get involved.” It makes me want to kill the job — something that is nonsensical and frowned upon to even try.

    On a different note, I think that people who make a smaller mental shift from defaultia to Burning Man are more likely to find a relationship that transcends our little Brigadoon. What would also work, I guess, is for two people to have the same level of transition, so they are similar in defaultia as much as they are similar at Burning Man.

    And to be honest, there is a certain advantage of living in San Fransisco or at least in a nearby city. It’s quite hard to meet someone from San Fransisco and have to think, “should I sell my house in Rochester, NY and move to San Fransisco on the off chance that this relationship will work?” But in a way, I’m back to the roadblock that infuriates me so. Of course I should, but the risk of ending up lonely in San Fransisco with no other friends and nothing of my old life to fall back on.

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  • Shryche says:

    As lame as this sounds i actually found this blog entry listed on a friends wall on FB. I must also be totally honest and say that I’ve never had the “Playa Experience” in all it’s glory. Still, i’ve been to enough regional and local burns in my area to realize exactly what you’re talking about! Those people you carve an indelible connection with out of the structured chaos of the burn. I had never thought about what to call them (short of simply “Friends”) but it occurs to me that while Burner Buddies works for some, I would have to go slightly more formal and change it to “Burn Friends”. Taking it from the Playa perspective i would call them my “Black Rock City Friends/Family” or simply BRCF for short.

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  • Too Hot says:

    Caveat, a nicely rendered piece. I am also grateful for our annual opportunity to better experience the interconnectedness that is built into us as human beings. We not only find it natural, we crave it. It’s a good thing and it is far better than how our default world works, but ours is not yet ready to receive. The metric system of measurement is superior to the English because it is simpler and interconnected. Still, the US continues to use the English system and the greatest frustration for students is always the conversion, not using the new system. I encourage you to let go of the conversion and particularly your desire to label it. Embracing our interconnectedness on a larger scale will come as fast as people understand its beauty and simplicity. For now, take joy in the fact that you and a relatively few other souls recognize the flower that blooms in the desert each year. It won’t be quite as striking when it blooms all year long.

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  • Chromatest says:

    Wow, a ton of comments! I’ll admit that I didn’t read most of them.

    I will say that I think the end result is heavily dependent on WHERE you are from and WHERE the people you meet are from.

    For example, it’s fairly unlikely that a person from Kansas City will meet a person on playa from Tampa Bay and become life-long roommates.

    On the other hand, a person from Oakland might meet somebody from San Jose, become lovers and get married or at least attend the same weddings and birthdays.

    The large numbers of people attending from the West Coast, especially the Bay Area, will tend to skew the results and responses here.

    Coming from Arizona, I only have made a few of these connections, and I really try to stay in touch with those people I’ve exchanged info with.

    Which brings me to the end of this comment with a “Thank YOU!” for reminding me that I should email/call/text my new bestest playa friends and remind them that I *still* think they’re awesome.

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  • Drummer says:

    Definitely a thought provoking article. This was my first burn, and really didn’t know what to expect. Yes, I met lots of great burners and I totally loved the experience. I did meet some fellow drummers who I had hoped would connect after the event, sadly that hasn’t happened – yet. Yes, I did email a few times and even telephoned with no response. So I did give it a try. Maybe there will be some connection in the future, just no indication yet that will happen. What amazed me was that those folks actually lived near me, and I hadn’t expected that experience, and I want to maintain the connection and maybe develop a friendship. Maybe as another post suggested, they will respond when Burning Man date comes close next year, as I definitely plan on another great experience and want to link up again.

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  • JadeMountainGirl says:

    Its all shades of grey. I find that many relationships in my “default” life are a lot like Playa relationships, them come and they go. I have had many beautiful connections with people in a moment of openness, and then the moment is gone, the openness is gone and the opportunity slips away. Being open can be pretty hard work in the regular world and think many times it just can’t be sustained. Burning man is different in that regard because for that magical crazy week it is nearly effortless to be open, because everyone else is, it is just the spirit of the place. The beauty of the whole thing is in its impermanence.

    As for some of the great folk I met out on the Playa, I love them still and remember them fondly, but I wouldn’t know what to say to them. I feel like I got a chance to know a little bit about who they really are, but I feel like the real person is not discussed much or displayed in the “real” world. It is to bad, but I would not want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. “Hey I saw your soul naked once, it was beautiful”, don’t really know what to say after that. I am just profoundly grateful I got to experience some many cool people at all. It is enough.

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  • Netzard says:

    I can see your point, however I am blessed to be married to a man who is the best and most loyal friend any human can have. His efforts at keeping in touch with the wonderful folks that have become our friends at Burning Man means we still keep in touch with most of them, even 17 years later. In fact, I currently work for people that we met who camped with Fandango some 12-13 years ago. We had never met them before, but it is one of many friendships that have lasted the crossing back to pavement. It does take work, but come on, you have more in common with the average burner than other people, right? Isn’t that worth the effort?

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  • Guyability says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the points raised in this essay, as not only do they ring true with this unique and momentous event, but indeed every other festival / house party / rave / random hedonistic gathering I can think of. These times and places are special to say the very least, and touch all attendees deep down in a way that is truly good for the soul, enriching for the memory, and more often than not cathartic as a motherlover…

    ……but at the end of the day; they really are just big ass parties, and like all big ass parties, they have a beginning and an end, at which point we all remember we have lives to go back to.

    See all you crazy kids next year for more demented FUN. X

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  • Gizmo Gadget Guy says:

    I agree completely, Caveat! I met a ton of people and had a great time with them on the playa. However, I exchanged contact info with only a handful, and have only followed up on two.

    Thankfully, the two have been receptive and we have remained in contact, some 5 weeks back in the default world. I made room for them in my life, and I believe they made room for me, and I’m grateful for that.

    I guess they are somewhat like high school friends at this point: I’m looking forward to seeing them at the next reunion, whatever the theme is gonna be, but probably wouldn’t seek them out otherwise.

    I can’t wait until the playa next year!

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  • Sir Loin says:

    Could not disagree more. I have some soulmates that are there for me 51 weeks out of the year. And for one magical week a year, we enter the gates of heaven. I have attended nine years now and still have friends that I communicate with on a regular basis from year 1.

    I saw a sign on my exit this year that said, “Burning Man – the world’s largest family reunion.” And it is true.

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  • Mitch says:

    I have to say that my experience has also been the exact opposite. My campmates are like the normal family I never had. We realized, thanks to the Burning Man organization, that what we really liked to do is come out to the desert and have our annual project and eat bacon and discuss cabbages and kings until all hours and maybe have some more bacon.

    We’re spread out amnong America, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East, but we visit each other in the off-season and keep in more or less steady contact on Facebook and Tribe.

    It always seemed to me that we were like-minded people drawn to Burning Man and then to a particular part of Burning Man, and we’ve created a camp and an organization that are likely to last indefinitely.

    (As long as there’s enough bacon).

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  • JV says:

    I relate to the author’s experience, I’ve tried a few times to extend a friendship beyond the playa, but it just hasn’t worked out yet. That said, I don’t mind it at all. The main takeaway I get from Burning Man is “let it go.” The fleeting friendships out there, the few hours spent talking or walking or dancing and then parting with no intent to reconnect, are, for me, liberating and exhilarating. As someone mentioned in an earlier comment, I’ve never been asked “so what do you do?” in a conversation at BRC, interactions there are about the moment and nothing else, so that question does not need to be asked because we can plainly see what we “do” right in front of us. Anything beyond that is immaterial.

    That’s been my experience, anyway. I like hearing about others who have formed lasting friendships at Burning Man. I’m certainly open to that happening, but not attached to it either way. And let me tell you, I was not capable of feeling that way before attending Burning Man.

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  • “…and that everything but the feelings is going to vanish in the exodus. And that’s okay. Amazing, even.”

    “The beauty of the whole thing is in its impermanence.”

    perhaps the desert lesson is in detachment? every single flower wilts and dies, but that doesn’t take away at how beautiful they can be for the brief time they exist. i hear ya though, Caveat. it sucks hard when that wonderful playa connection doesn’t last or carry on to the default world. but it is a wonderful reminder that we must cherish every fleeting moment and every kindred spirit, on and off the playa. :)

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  • Heather says:

    After a 2nd burn, but the first time being truly open to meeting and making new friends while there, I was sorely disappointed when the people I felt closest to and gave my “real world” contact info to had never reached out to me. Just today I was thinking that it was time to let that go, but wasn’t sure how. I’m so glad to know it’s not just me and the more I think about it, the more I can appreciate the time I spent with them and know that I will likely have similar experiences at future burns. This year I was finally able to step out of my comfort zone and bond with complete strangers and while I may be getting over the sting of the lost friendships, I think the whole of the experience and the change in my personality (even for only one week a year) was completely worth it.

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  • An analogy to the Dream World might provide some insights on this issue. Burning Man is like a waking dream. In fact it is one of the most dream-like happenings on the planet. In my dreams there are characters that show up and they also inhabit my waking life and there are many more who show up in my dreams and never appear in my waking life. And so it is with Burning Man. Some of those dreamy characters i encounter on the playa i just can’t integrate into my default life but others fit in quite comfortably and those are the playa friendships i’m likely to nurture at large and by letting go of my expectations i’ve grown more comfortable with both kinds of relationships.

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  • nes says:

    Coincidentally, my word for ppl I met at playa is called “Burner Buds” :)
    Add me to the list of people who agree with you. It has been particularly depressing month for me. I feel like I am one of those kids in the school who tries to hang out with cool crowd, but gets rejected. Yeah, thats me!
    Except, what I define cool is different now. But I am now questioning my soclializing skills, after the exodus.
    I have learnt for my next time to NOT expect any of the life-changing-epiphanic-moments/people to stretch beyond that time that was given to us.
    The focus for that one week should be in discovering myself. This year, my mistake was that I tried to find myself in others.

    But, to me the real question IS – if all those soul mates/dust buddy who kept saying that “you are awesome and you are a beautiful person” end up in your default life… can we really handle it? I doubt that I can.

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  • Harinama says:

    I agree and disagree with this. Most of my friends these days are related to my experiences at Burning Man, or other NW festivals. However, friends that are in distant cities will tend to be more of acquaintances due to our busy lives. We can only hold a certain number of friends close(mostly local), others will always be on the periphery. But, that does not degrade the value of the experience we’ve had with them, it just puts it in context.

    BRC has opened me up to more diverse, powerful and life changing relationships than i would have allowed or dared dream of before.

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  • james maher says:

    btw, your BMan friends are your “Kindling(s).” Because it sounds nice, includes the word “kind,” and they’re the ones who help you burn!

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  • spect says:

    my bman friendships are similar to the foundations that i build most of my relationships upon, very close and meaningful. thats not something specific to bman, i selectively choose and value them the same as friends outside these social circles. but it does allow an easier expansion from the density of like minded and enlightened people, and a special environment that makes it slightly different.

    i can only guess others rarely appreciate the depth and value if its that transient, maybe superficially treating it such because separation anxiety would be very strong, and would likely motivate a change in their lives. so distancing and distraction would be normal behavior for them after a vacation playground.

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  • dusty hugger says:

    I totally agree with your post. In fact I was so caught up in living in the moment that I rarely even thought to ask for contact info. I’m very happy for the few connections I did make as they help solidify the experience – yes, those moments really did occur, we have witnesses living in the default world!
    BurningMan is a place to explore who you are and enjoy the beauty of who everyone else is in the process of becoming. Any ties to past or future identity is limiting. At burningman we all all living the experience of being the universe.
    (see latest hugnation video for more on the universe thread)

    At Earthdance I met a first time burner who had a common experience to my first burn which was 2010. Suddenly people were beautiful and not something to be avoided while camping in nature. People are are things of beauty when they open up and bloom. All they need is fertile ground and so far I haven’t found anyplace more fertile than the playa.

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  • Nik says:

    YMMV but honestly I think this is just your default mind returning, the comedown from the high that is burning man. Friends from burning man that you are unable to keep up with come from the fact that you’re back trapped in the default world. Sorry you couldn’t take it with you – what’s more, those friends may experience the same thing, and also couldn’t take it with them.

    As you have written, burning man just feels so real. That’s because it is. We are at our most elevated there, in a state of mind that is as close to being enlightened as any of us have got – whether we realize it or not. Whatever we call it – happy high, enlightened, present – we all feel it, the energy at burning man makes it exceedingly EASY to drop into that state of mind. It’s effortless. At the end of burning man, you look around yourself, and you realize that everyone is so beautiful. We can see everyone for what they are; we see the light in their eyes; we see the miracle of being; in us, and in everyone around us. The truth is that everyone at their core is beautiful – only in the default world we don’t see it, in ourselves, and in others.

    These things then all come from not being able to keep up your playa mind: Not connecting with your burning man friends; thinking you really should; beating yourself up over it (at first); writing this kind of article to rationalize it (later). Separating burning man from the default world….

    I mean – it’s not the world that is changing when you come back from burning man. It’s the same world. It’s your state of mind that is changing.

    You know what I really want to see: I want to see this same article – or rather, an article dealing with this same issue, written by you while you are still there, on the last day of burning man.

    Peace, and keep on burning


    PS: I keep in touch with my BM friends; I am halfway around the world so by circumstance I don’t see them nearly as much as I’d want to. But I do make an effort, and I am hoping to receive some of my fellow burners here soon.

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  • First a link to a similar post on my own blog about playa romances;

    Of course a little over a year after writing that I fell in love on the playa and we’re still going strong today. In fact I’m moving 4000km in less than a month to be with her. Yes many of those relationships just don’t muster after the burn. I can definitely think of more than a few, but some of them endure and grow stronger than you could have ever imagined beforehand. I just depends.

    Ultimately for those who feel this, and I think we all feel this, we all have a story like this, then really you should look at your nearest regional community –

    You may well find that there are burners you can hang out with in your own home town and that the connections you make with them are truly transformative and long lasting. Sometimes you’ll make each other crazy, but that’s what families are like. They’ll also be there for you when you really need it, or at least you’ll have a friend or two with a flame-thrower.

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  • dusty hugger says:

    OK, you could say I’m trapped in default world…very busy life with career, wife, kid…but that’s not all bad. Although I don’t take on new long-term friendships from the playa experience (wouldn’t have time for them anyway), I deepen the connection with the people that I already loved and find it much easier to make new local friends. The combination of my age and my location means that I don’t even know other burners in my home town or at my work. That doesn’t mean I can’t stay more open than ever before and enjoy the extra love that brings into my live from burners and non-burners alike. As you said, *everyone* is beautiful. Just give them permission to be more open – and the best way to do that is to be more vulnerable yourself.

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  • Una says:

    After 9 years of playing in one of my favorite cities on earth, I can relate. I call this type of energy, “Lost in Translation.” While that doesn’t give a label or name to the type of relationship, I think it describes the energy of what happens in these instances. Sometimes, whatever was experienced in that precious moment on the playa when you had that glint in your eye that caught the attention of another, just doesn’t quite translate into your daily life. It always reminds me of the movie and what I love about traveling… being so present in the moment and giving yourself so freely that there is no expectation of the future.

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  • Danger Ranger says:

    It’s been a sometimes rocky, but very devoted lifetime friendship… and yes, there was this time when I bailed Larry out.

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  • Sage says:

    I find I connect more intimately with Burners in the default world irregardless of whether or not I met and befriended them on the playa. And, I have some very good default world friends who I can barely tolerate when we’re on the Playa together. Go figure.

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  • Truth, as far as it goes…

    I find this posting rings true more than often than not. Some people will stick with you, but the truth is harder to swallow and something I struggled with: pain binds people closer than joy.
    I drove out to the very first Man-Burn and seen this event change in amazing and glorious ways, yet stay the same… These experiences are great, but many people like the time-out fantasy communities allow, the rule-breaking, and taboo-bending.
    After all, what would beauty look like if everyone was gorgeous?
    Without ugliness there can be no beauty to measure against.
    Without fiction we do not know truth.

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  • Jami says:

    This is true Only for the spectators, not my experience at all ( thank god)

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  • Joey Jello says:

    Yer livin’ it wrong.

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  • Kомиссáр says:

    I think it is sad that people accept the transience of their relationships made on the Playa. I think to put any energy into something just to let it dissolve indicates the lack of value they placed with it to begin with.

    What you are calling Burner Buddies are really just single-serving friends, you can find those anywhere and not just at BurningMan.

    I’m not interested in making single-serving friends. If that is all you want, then don’t waste my time.

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  • Paul "Big PHREEKY" Neumann says:

    How sad!
    My Default World Family is my Burner Family Too!!
    At 53 years old I finally have found Peace and acceptance in the Default World because of My Burning Man People! I have a relationship with God, a wonderful wife, and a different Life, because of the unconditional love, friendship and acceptance of my Burner People!
    My Heart breaks for you………..

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  • Ward says:

    Very nicely written and thought-provoking article. I have a smattering of both types of playa friends — those I see in the default world, and those I don’t — and I like it that way.

    Anyway, here are my contributions re: naming conventions for playa-only friends:

    Playa Posse
    Playa Peeps
    Burning Clan
    Dustworthies (contraction of “dusty trustworthies”)
    Playans (sounds like “Mayans”)
    Chilgrims (Like “pilgrims,” but far more congenial toward indigenous peoples)
    Thrilgrims (Yep, I’m being lazy)
    Embers Only™ (terrible idea, great pun)
    Center Champs/Vamps
    En Masse-tronauts
    Muggles (Note: potential copyright issues)

    Great writing, Caveat. Much appreciated.

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  • Ward says:

    Having thought about this for several minutes, I’ve actually come full circle to realize that “Embers Only™” (trademark optional) fits perfectly.

    It’s settled. That’s your term. Consider it an early 2012 playa gift.

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  • edgycathy says:

    Written with style and wit. My experience was similar to Caveat’s: the playa is a place where you live in the moment, and intimacy happens instantly. I miss that here in default.

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  • I’m with James Maher on the naming: “kindling(s)”. Your kind kin for the burn.

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  • moondog says:

    I have been thinking about this post quite a lot, and appreciate the meaningful comments people have posted.

    First, there’s the behavior that The Hun describes above – how much he likes falling into a deep conversation with a stranger on the playa for a period of minutes or hours, and then parting ways with no contact information exchanged. My first year on the playa I experienced this several times and I confess I found it to be one of the most difficult interpersonal challenges of the BM experience.

    I found myself kind of obsessing about people who had seemed like such kindred spirits, and who had simply disappeared into the dust without looking back. How could they? Were they not feeling it too? Was it something I said?

    With a little more experience I have come to understand that this is one of the signature behaviors on the playa, and that it offers a kind of magic, though it can still be vexing.

    In terms of sustaining relationships with those people with whom you DO exchange contact information, just a couple of quick comments. First, let’s not dis Facebook too offhandedly – it offers a real way to stay connected, and there are hidden depths there if you plumb them (instant messaging, sending each other videos, sharing of various kinds). Google+ offers live video connections, even. A private FB or G+ group for your camp or circle can offer real group cohesion across distance and time, and can deepen relationships.

    My experience with being Facebook friends with people I met on the playa is that through the trickle of posts and online interactions I discover that they also have other common interests, or perspectives, or history, or even friends – making for much richer interactions next time we talk or meet.

    But more than that, I would offer that if you make a real connection with someone, and want it to be sustained over time and distance, whether you make that connection at Burning Man or at a friend’s wedding or any other temporary gathering, it takes mutual effort and energy. Relationships take work. Sometimes we walk away and savor the memory, and sometimes we choose to put in the effort over Facebbok or through postcards or phone calls or plane tickets. Staying connected to someone is a gift you give them. And we’re expert gift-givers, right?

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  • Mel says:

    Over the years I’ve become nearly an expert on transient relationships so this, to me, just reads as slightly naive. I think that you can form real connections with people at burns… certainly that kind of environment has deepened my connection with many people I already knew as well as bringing some new folks into my life… but any kind of transient experience will bring this kind of thing. It is rare to keep in touch with people you meet in any kind of transitional place… though the ones that you do connect with and do stick around, tend to stick.

    I think that it’s best to just understand that all relationships are as they’re supposed to be. A transforming connection can last a few hours or a few years… and there is nothing less or more about it. It serves you what you need, no more, no less.

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  • Indigo says:

    Having helped my camp for four years, burned now only twice, i may not have as full a perspective as some, but…

    My first burn, i connected with my “playa boyfriend”, a man who became my lover and with whom i connected so strongly it kinda scared me. a year and a half later, we’re friends on facebook but barely comment on each other’s lives – yet i know he spends hours chatting with mutual friends. he wasn’t on playa this year, but will be next.

    I felt embarrassed and nervous about seeing him on playa for Rites of Passage but he wasn’t able to come. i was relieved in a way when i learned he wouldn’t be there. i was also disappointed in myself for not having been more true to the feelings i had with him, that i had not made them a reason to stay connected with him, but instead let my life get in the way.

    When i see him next year, he’ll get a huge hug from me. the love i felt (feel) for him was real and he’ll always be my first Playa Boyfriend. it took a second burn to understand why it’s ok. i had to see the reconnection, the people coming out of the dust with huge smiles for those they haven’t seen in a year (or years), the big wet sloppy kisses, the laughter, the Welcome Home hugs.

    As a friend of mine wrote me about this article, “nowhere in the definition of the word ‘meaningful’ will you find the word ‘permanent’.”

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