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Definitely Not In the Burning Man Survival Guide: Playa Romances

Updated: Aug 07, 2017 14:54
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When you cross over into the Temporary Autonomous Zone that is Burning Man, you’re in another reality. For a week you’re unencumbered by any of the stuff that eats away at the joy of living, like bills, alarm clocks, money, bosses, exams, parking tickets, dress codes. It’s very liberating. And in that spirit of liberation, you’re open to experience and adventure. Things happen.

If you’re prone to romantic fantasy, there could hardly be a more romantic place to meet up. If you’re an intellectual, you can be driven to orgasmic ecstasy observing this sociological phenomenon. If you’re an exhibitionist, voyeur, or a player, it’s better than Christmas. You may be happily paired off and looking forward to an amazing shared experience, but if you’re single, there’s infinite potential.

A recent article in The London Review of Books chronicles a woman going to Burning Man for sexual experience she couldn’t have at home—random and gratuitous. Considering she’s from New York, where surely there are plenty of discreet Ashley Madison-type options open for whatever, it seemed like she was missing the point of going to the desert. But in the process, she described the multiple options for sexual experimentation. Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a camp for it.


Every sort of person goes to Burning Man, and most of them are wonderful. They get the 10 Principles and they embrace generosity, warmth, and inclusion. For the most part, people have no agenda. But there are some people who do, and there are agendas (finding a soul mate or engaging people in your art) and Agendas (cutting notches or infiltrating a plug-and -play camp). There are narcissists out there, and there are predators. Anyone can buy a ticket, or at least try to buy one. It’s harder to spot predatory types when under the influence, or influences. So even though there’s less social danger on the playa than in your average nightclub, do keep your radar on if you’re sensitive.

People at Burning Man can be divided, basically, into two essential types: those who are totally into the community experience, the art, and the sociological experiment, and then you have those who are just there to party. There are a lot more pheromones floating in the air in the party camps. If the notion of a wild encounter with someone, whose real name you may never know, and who you may never see again, sounds good, head for the camps where the music is so loud that conversation is impossible.

It is totally possible to find true love at the desert. I know two people who met there the first year, and got married on the playa the second year. They’re still happily together. There are lots of weddings during Burning Man, because that’s where the couples met. There have also been plenty of ersatz weddings, faux licenses for a week, to celebrate a playa love affair.

The reality is that not all desert romances survive, when you’re no longer in an alternate reality. Back in the “default” world, you see things about a person that weren’t an issue out there, like attitudes towards money, reliability, obligations, and all that. Your desert significant other may be geographically undesirable in real life, or there may be something that person just didn’t tell you. Or the opposite is totally possible, that you can meet someone at the playa, but the romance doesn’t start until later. Or you may run into someone you know out there, and see that person in a completely different light. One of my friends found true love at a Decompression party.

Sometimes people fall into situations that are great at the moment, but hardly what they’d do under sober reflection. Such things can be chalked up to the heat of the moment, literally and inter-personally, and unless you are plagued with guilt, waved off as temporary meh. To very loosely paraphrase Fight Club, another great phenomenon spun out of the Cacophony Society, “(Some) things at the playa need to stay at the playa.”

Love of many kinds is an intrinsic part of the Burning Man experience. You form bonds of friendship intensely. You become part of a community of mostly kindred spirits with a whole lot of shared values. So, all things considered, Black Rock City is probably a more fertile hunting ground than OK Cupid. But if hunting is on your Agenda, you may miss the romance of community. If you’re in love with the experience, it may be easier for true love to find you. And you can have a sensationally good time without any playa romance at all. Really.

This photo was appropriated from the site

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P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal - Bohemian Archivist

P Segal is a San Francisco native, writer, therapist, and life coach. Literary agents have called her a clever niche writer, but none of them can figure out what the hell her niche is.