I recently returned from the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock City, Nevada (actually I’ve been back over a week but it’s taken that long to remove the dust from my body). It’s an art festival in the middle of the desert and I went for the first time as part of my month long celebration of graduating law school/taking the bar. So naturally I decided to run around half naked in the desert to liberate myself from my suburban roots before I reenter the working world. Being a JAP from LA, I was a little apprehensive about the whole ordeal and worried I would not be welcome or even enjoy myself in this free-wheeling environment.
But while I was there and let’s just say perhaps not in the most sober-induced state of mind, I had one of the most profound experiences of my life. I’m not much of a crier but on Friday night, I couldn’t stop tears of happiness from streaming down my face as I had this radical shift in my perspective on long-term relationships and an ever-lasting love.
The whole thing started at a gay bar, where they had built a freestanding door on a platform for anyone to “come out” in a literal way. People came out as gay or bi or whatever else they needed to proclaim themselves to be. Mr. Dreamboat had just taken me to Asia for an incredible romantic dream-come-true vacation and so was unable to join me at Burning Man. But he was incredibly supportive of me going by myself and consistently trusting which made me miss him even more over the five days I was there. So I was thinking about him constantly and in the middle of dancing with a group of friends and feeling overwhelmingly happy about my life, I ran up to the platform, threw the door open in front of the crowd and screamed “I’m in love with a banker!” I was out. It felt amazing to yell it as loudly as I could but, I feared that in a place that was accepting of polyamorous relationships and naked parties and every type of psychotropic substance that existed, I may have admitted to being the one thing that would not be welcomed amongst this group. I was wrong. Strangers came up to me and hugged me and asked about my relationship. People name dropped the large tech firms they worked at. I was ecstatic. I could live in both the worlds I wanted to live in.
Soon, a dust cloud come across the dance floor and out of the billowy whiteness, a couple emerged. The woman was a beautiful woman in her forties wearing a long white dress, who was all smiles as she came up to me and asked how long I’d been dating my banker. I told her and then asked her how long she and her husband had been married.
“We’ve been together twenty-three years,” she said as she looked at him like a schoolgirl in love with her first crush.
“So it’s possible?” I said reflexively. I was just making small talk and this is something I commonly say to couples who have been married a long time as a subtle compliment. They often respond with something about how it takes hard work or compromise. But this time, I was caught completely unaware for the interaction that followed.
This time, this woman looked at me like I was absolutely insane asylum-worthy crazy and had said the most preposterous thing she had ever heard.
“Of course it’s possible. It’s as probable to happen as anything else.” I was stunned.
“Look around,” she continued. “It’s certainly as probable to happen as fifty-thousand people coming together in the middle of the desert to burn art. Why wouldn’t it be?”
My eyes had begun to well with tears. I stood there, with my mouth hanging open, utterly gob-smacked. For so long, I have thought of finding a true love that lasts with a man that will remain faithful to me as one of the most impossible and rarest things to find in life. My girlfriends and I talk about how hard it is to find a man to spend your life with and how practically impossible it is to have them remain faithful to you. I write about it, tortured by my tacit fear that I’m wandering the earth looking for something that doesn’t exist. I concentrate on all the reasons why the odds are against us and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in our way. I have been focusing for so long on how hard it is to find a true lasting love, I didn’t even realize I had started to think of it as essentially impossible. But I looked around, at the thousands of people dancing under the piercing lights in the middle of the desert and realized how every day in life we see achievements of man that seem much more unlikely. Man has walked on the moon, created the internet, music, the written word, cloned a sheep, and eradicated disease. And here I am, walking around thinking that what’s truly impossible is to stay married to someone who will continue to love me forever. No wonder this woman thought I was crazy.
Of course it’s possible I thought to myself. Of course, a lasting true love is possible, I wanted to scream. It’s as likely to happen as anything else in this world that happens. So why am I carrying this onus in my heart that the one thing I want so much is so unlikely to happen to me? And right then and there, I felt myself began to let go of the notion that ever lasting love is insurmountably hard. I danced with a lightness of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. Of course it’s possible, I said over and over again in my head. I was overjoyed. I was so happy, my body was bursting into movement, overjoyed at the idea that there’s no reason I can’t have the love I want. I felt changed and inspired.
As the hours passed, my friends and I moved across the playa until we ended up on an Art Car to watch the burning of The Trojan Horse. The night had been a beautiful one so far and I was just letting myself quietly take it all on.
We had an incredible view, outside on the roof of the art car, of this massive Trojan Horse that was visible for miles. We were near enough that at midnight when the horse began to burn we could feel the heat on our faces. It began slowly with fireworks and soon sparklers were shooting light from the horse’s mane. Then with a huge burst of a fire cloud, the entire horse was engulfed in one massive large flaming fire-ball. The flame cloud receded and left the entire horse on fire –she looked like she was galloping away into the smoke. It was one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen in my entire life. I stared at it and in just a matter of moments, I swear I saw a unicorn looking back at me.
Now, I know how crazy this sounds, but here’s the thing. For the last couple years of my life whenever I talk about relationships or even write about it for that matter, when I try to explain what I’m looking for, I always use the same metaphor. I start out by explaining that I believe that I will find a true love that lasts forever, that we stay married to each other forever, and that we stay faithful to each other forever. But then, I acknowledge how naive and childish this must all sound by saying although sometimes I wonder if I might as well be saying I believe in unicorns. I’m a realist and I really do struggle with the question of am I holding on to a fairy-tale notion that doesn’t really exist anywhere out there. So over and over I’ve used this analogy of the unicorn to explain my internal dilemma – it’s like how I end my shtick on relationships.
So that night when I swear, a unicorn appeared to me out of that smoke, it felt like a sign. I hadn’t been thinking about it beforehand at all. I was thinking about Mr. Dreamboat and then the longer I watched the horse burn, the more clearly I saw a unicorn running away from me into the flames. I felt like the universe was shouting at me it does exist. Wake up already and stop analyzing everything to death! You might have even found it already so stop questioning it! Tears were falling down my face fast. I’ve never cried so much out of joy, but the longer I watched, the more beautiful it was and the more beauty I saw, the more the tears flowed.
Soon the image that I knew only I was seeing began to dissipate. A thin rail skeleton of a horse remained on fire and I watched transfixed as tears still soaked my cheeks. I hardly moved or spoke for the hour we watched that horse burn. I was changed. I felt heeled from heartbreaks in the past and from wounds I suffered as casualties of relationships. I felt sure again about believing that someone would love me the way I’ve always wanted to be loved. I felt sure again that someone would be faithful to me. I didn’t even realize how much I had been doubting it all this time. The world somehow seemed restored to me. Happy life-long marriages suddenly seemed more than just possible. For the first moment, in the longest time, I believed wholeheartedly that I would find what I have been looking for. If unicorns do exist, lasting love suddenly seemed probable to me.