Relationship Survival At Burning Man – What You Need To Know

bmcoupleDear Marcia,

I’m going to Burning Man this year for the first time with my partner and I want to make sure our relationship doesn’t implode. What are some things we should watch out for?

– Playa Bound

Dear Playa Bound,

Burning Man is a weird and wonderful place where all sorts of mind-blowing stuff can happen. However, some things are predictable. Here’s what to know ahead of time. 

You will fight and it will probably be because you’re dehydrated. If you catch yourselves fighting doesn’t assume it mean the end of the world, and instead check your self-care. My camp has a rule that if you saw two people getting snippy with each other, separate them and make them drink water and sit in the shade for a bit. This rule saved several relationships that I know of. Make it your own. 

Time works differently on the playa. When you’re making dates with your sweetie, try to schedule them according to the sun, rather than the clock. It’s much easier to meet up back at camp “around sunset” than to try to do something at 4pm. Clocks have little meaning in an environment of immediacy, and you’ll only cause yourself frustration if you try to keep both of you on some sort of schedule. 

Expectations will fuck you up. If you think something is going to be a certain way, or your sweetie is going to do a certain thing, you will almost always be disappointed. It is far better to set some intentions, do the best you can, assume others are doing the best they can, take responsibility for getting your own needs met, and then roll with whatever shows up.

Mushroom People at Burning Man 2010There will be eye-candy. Lots of it. Sweaty, scantily-clad eye candy. Get clear ahead of time what is and isn’t okay, and what your intentions are in regards to this eye candy. Do you want to make out with strangers together on Threesome Thursday? Look but don’t touch? Plan one day where you go your separate ways and whatever happens happens? Talk ahead of time about what you each want, but don’t push each other’s boundaries. Burning Man is a strange, magical place, but you want to be on speaking terms when you leave. Respect your boundaries and agreements. 

You will need lube. It’s the desert. When it’s time for the two of you to make sweet, sweet love, make sure you have lube, water, condoms and baby wipes ready to go. 

For more handy tips, check out the Burning Man Relationship Survival Guide.

Talk things through ahead of time, but stay flexible and spontaneous. Be nice to each other and enjoy the ride! 



photos courtesy quantamlars and michael holden via flickr

How to Have a Good Time, Even At The Most Painfully Awkward Party You’ve Ever Been To

A few weeks ago, I was at a birthday party that would easily win the award for “Awkward Social Event of 2013″. It was a tiny event, with only about 16 people, from two different social circles, and a whole lot of weird dynamics and history amongst the people participating. (Did he sleep with her? Is she speaking to them? What’s going on with those two? IS THIS EVEN HAPPENING?!)

awkward momentNo matter which way I turned, it was painfully uncomfortable. Everyone I knew at the party was dealing with their own awkwardness, so there was no relief in sight, but I didn’t exactly want to leave. After all, I wanted to celebrate my friend’s birthday, not to mention there was also a sort of train-wreck fascination I had with everything that was not being said.

I was stuck, trapped in conversations I didn’t want to be in, with people who weren’t admitting what was really going on, even though I could see it.

In a word, it sucked.

Now, as a rule, I don’t drink in social situations to handle discomfort. I prefer to stay with my feelings and see what can be discovered there, or to consciously choose to leave the situation rather than checking out. But in this case, I was on my way to the bar when the voice of my good friend Kye came into my head, saying “If you don’t like the experience you’re having, do something different. What is the experience you want to be having?”

Suddenly, everything crystalized for me, and I knew what I wanted to do.

Kye and I have had this conversation many times over the 10 or so years we’ve known each other. All group social events — parties, bars, clubs, workshops, Disneyland, you name it — are set up to produce a certain kind of experience. Some are set up well, and some are set up poorly, but there is always something on the part of the people putting it together that is “supposed” to happen.

Most of us just go into the experience, get swept up into whatever is going on, and kind of get spit out on the other side, having had whatever happened to us happen. Sometimes the experience is satisfying, and we might go back, trying to capture that initial feeling again. Other times, like at this party I was at, it can be head-scratching or downright anxiety producing.

The secret is in those two sentences Kye said to me. Let’s break it down:

If you don’t like the experience you’re having, do something different.

Anything different will give you a different experience, although that might not be what you want, either. Still, taking action puts in you in the driver’s seat. And making a conscious choice to do something different keeps you from doing whatever unconscious behavior you would normally do that keeps you stuck in a pattern (like leaving, or drinking, or checking out, or flirting with someone to get validation, or picking a fight with your partner… not that I’ve EVER done any of those!)

If you can’t get so far as to actually creating the experience you WANT to have, you can at least start having a different experience than what you are having, simply by trying something different than what you’ve been doing.

What is the experience you want to be having?

It’s not uncommon before going out for Kye to ask, “What’s your intention tonight? Why are you going out?” By asking before we even hit the party or club, I have an opportunity to ground myself in why I’m even doing the thing I’m doing. If the answer is “because it seems fun” or “because all of y’all are going,” that’s a clue to come up with something more internally motivated, or to consider bailing.

But even if you haven’t thought about it in advance, asking what the experience you WANT to have opens the door for you to get what you want in a situation.

As I looked around the room, I noticed what I was drawn to, and it became very clear that I wanted four things:

  • To cuddle and talk to one of my good girlfriends who was having a hard time.
  • To play with and celebrate the birthday girl in her silly fun ways.
  • To try to connect with one of the people I had my own awkward history with.
  • And to surrender to my not-so-enlightened desire to watch the train-wreck social stuff unfold. (Hey, I never said I was a good person. 🙂 )

What happened next was not all sunshine and roses…

My friend and I clung to each other for dear life for a little while, and eventually relaxed into feeling more playful and less stressed due the physical contact. (That was nice.)

I got to see the birthday girl shine in her particular way, and I felt closer to her for having been there. (Awwww… cute.)

And when I finally admitted I actually wanted to watch everything unfold like it was a soap opera (instead of trying to help or avoid it), I was able to enjoy the silly machinations that humans go through to try to keep themselves safe, and have compassion for the people involved. And, yes, I did laugh at some of it, because I am not always that good of a person. But you know, giving myself permission to be a bad person can often make me a better person. (Score one for embracing imperfection.)

As for the person I had the awkward history with… well. Let’s just say I accidentally managed to make things HOLY CRAP JESUS MUCH MORE AWKWARD. Sometimes, it’s shocking how massively I can stick my foot in my mouth. I mean, seriously, a clusterfuck. An OMG-Did-That-Actually-Just-Come-Out-Of-My-Mouth, I-Totally-Didn’t-Mean-That clusterfuck.

(The jury’s still out on that one. I don’t know if I will ever be able to hang in the same room as that guy without wanting to hang my tail between my legs.)

But you know what? I stayed til the end of the party, and Clusterfuck Of Doom aside, I actually ended up having a really good time. Even at the Awkward Social Event of the Year.

How do you handle awkward moments?


Assume Everyone Is Sexual

On the last page of Susie Bright’s fantastic book Full Exposure, there is a list that has stuck with me since the first time I read it 10 years ago. It goes like this:

“Assume Everyone Is Sexual”
To ever imagine otherwise is one of the most profound and ignorant forms of discrimination.

Your momma is sexual,
Your great-grandma who you never knew,
Her husband too —
Your precious baby, and every other precious baby,
That twisted up guy in a wheelchair,
The thirteen-year-old with thick glasses and orthopedic shoes,
The incredibly homely person that you crossed the street to get away from,
weird anorexic supermodels too —
Anyone you don’t desire,
and anyone you’ve ever put on a pedestal.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our culture seems to tell us at every turn that sex is only for the young and the pretty, and the toll that takes on the rest of us. (Or really, all of us.)

Being sexual is confused with being sexually desirable, which is confused with being lovable. But none of these are the same thing.

You have a sexuality regardless of who you are, what you look like and whether someone else likes it.

Your sexuality is worth recognizing and loving.

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to love my own sexuality is to recognize that everyone is sexual. By taking the attention off myself, and learning to consider (and maybe even love) the otherwise invisible sexuality of everyone else around me, it becomes just a weird quirk that we humans all have.

Something I get to have.

Something YOU get to have.

All of us.

So today, assume everyone is sexual. And let me know in the comments what happens.