Once upon a time, I was married. 7 years of struggle to get along eventually ended in divorce. I’ve been divorced for nearly 9 years now. I have taken a very measured approach to dating since then. If you are in a long term relationship, and I know you, I’ve been watching you closely and taking notes.
I’ve seen some beautiful couples at work. Some of you have found a way to grow together with your partner while still granting one another the individual identities that are so critical to our own self esteem and the maintenance of the initial attraction that brought you together. I see the way you create memories together over the years and I find myself longing for that same richness.
Some of you are struggling to stay together. You are dabbling in loves with people outside your union… and yet I don’t judge. Attraction isn’t a choice (though what you do after that absolutely is). Some of you have sacrificed little parts of your character, of your life, of your soul – for the “sake of the union”. Both of you silently resent the begrudged sacrifice.
Louis C.K. sums it up perfectly:
‘It’s hard to really, like, look at somebody and go, “hey, maybe something nice will happen.” I know too much about life to have any optimism, because I know even if it’s nice, it’s going to lead to shit. I know that if you smile at somebody and they smile back, you’ve just decided that something shitty is going to happen. You might have a nice couple of dates, but then she’ll stop calling you back and that’ll feel shitty. Or you’ll date for a long time and then she’ll have sex with one of your friends, or you will with one of hers, and that’ll be shitty. Or you’ll get married, and it won’t work out and you’ll get divorced and split your friends and money and that’s horrible, or you’ll meet the perfect person who you love infinitely, and you even argue well and you grow together and you have children, and then you get old together and then she’s gonna die. That’s the best-case scenario, is that you’re gonna lose your best friend and then just walk home from D’Agostino’s with heavy bags every day and wait for your turn to be nothing also.’ – Louis C.K.
One of the lessons that Burning Man impressed upon me is an acceptance of the ephemeral nature of things. Louis describes it perfectly. From the outset, I already know what the end is going to be, and it’s not fun. For years I have struggled with relationships because I can see the end so clearly from the beginning, it just takes all the fun out of dating.
Do any of you suffer the same problem? I mean, even if you think you’ve met your most perfect soul mate, you know that it’s going to end, best case scenario – in death and unspeakable loneliness. For most relationships, you’ll find your end in a really messy breakup or divorce, inspired by one of you being unfaithful or an abusive asshole.
At Burning Man, you show up on the Playa and try to drink in all of the incredible beauty, knowing that it will be burned before your very eyes in just a few days. How do you go on a date with someone – and look into their eyes – and know that it will end either in some variety of breakup or death?
Mormonism is clever – that ideology tries to skirt around the issue with the idea of “eternal marriage”, but the divorce statistics are the same for Mormons as they are with the rest of the heathen world. Mormons don’t know any more than the rest of the world about how to create happy marriages. I do give them a star on the forehead for a nice attempt at an ideology that tried to take a shortcut around the actual truth of what will happen to our loves.
How do you deal with that?
Do you sometimes meet a person that is just SO amazing, so wonderful, so awe inspiring, that you go into a state of suspended disbelief and “fall in love”?
Do you just look at people as amusement park rides, experiencing them fully in the present for all that they are, and just accept from the outset that it will end in a little while, never allowing yourself to get too attached to them?
How do you manage your heart and the truth that… like at Burning Man… all things come to an end?
How do you manage the exit from relationships that aren’t really serving you or the other person anymore?
Why is it that I can deal with the disappearance of art, but not the promise of someone’s love for my own heart?
I can’ t decide if I am just a cynical asshole and totally missing the point, or…
…if I am actually smart, and the rest of you are delusional and lying to yourselves every time you get into a relationship.
I experienced 3 massive losses several years ago, all of them within about 24 months of each other, one of them being my divorce. I haven’t been the same since. Maybe I’m just broken beyond repair.
Maybe I just haven’t met someone yet that makes me forget that ends even exist.
Despite all of this cynical musing… Burning Man did inspire me to be open to this idea. It inspired me to unabashedly want that connection and incredible love affair, no matter if it’s temporary. It inspired me to be strong enough to experience the exuberance and then the crushing heat of disappointment and loss. It made me more willing to pay the price than I ever have been.