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Dear Burning Man, I'm breaking up with you. 

Dear Burning Man,

I'm breaking up with you.

Please don't be hurt. It wasn't anything you did. It isn't you, it's me. I know that's one of the most abused breakup lines ever· but this time it's true.

We've had a wonderful relationship, starting on that August afternoon in 1997 when I left the Bay Area, headed east in my heavily÷laden car towards unknown Nevadan territory for our first date. And it was truly an amazing first date; I remember that you tried to kiss me and I didn't kiss back because I'm such a shy, self÷conscious guy. I've seen you every Labor Day since then, and many times during the year in between those Labor Days, and every time we've been together has been intense and emotional and our partings have always been bittersweet and I've always looked forward to seeing you again. And those times I did loosen up enough to kiss you back, it was truly mind÷blowing. But I think it's time to let go now.

As I said, it's really not your fault. You are who you are. Some of your past lovers Ğ÷ and there have been many, I don't begrudge you them, you have a heart that's big enough for all of us and so many more ÷ have slandered you, saying you've gotten too big, you've sold out, you've lost your soul, you're no longer the Burning Man they fell in love with. I think they're just bitter because they couldn't hold you. Trying to say that Burning Man is any one thing ÷ including too big or too commercial ÷ is ridiculous; that's why most people stop at "You'll just have to go and find out for yourself" in their attempts to describe you. You're different to every one of us. You have been every year I've known you, and I expect ÷ I hope ÷ you will always be that way. I don't really know who you are, and I don't think I ever have, but that's OK. I like it better this way.

I love you. I hope you know that. I've grown so much in our relationship that I'm not sure I know who I am any longer. And that's OK too. That's what I came to you for in the first place. 

Yes, there are a couple of things about you that have really gotten on my nerves over the years. There's the sound, for one thing. I'm a guy who likes silence, and I can't get any while you're around. I didn't know this until I took a trip to your house, the playa, while you weren't home ÷ and discovered I liked it better without you there. That's just my preference. I'm a grumpy old bastard with hearing damage, after all. And, to your credit, you've made a lot of effort in the years I've known you to accommodate me and the others who have sensitive ears. It's not enough· but that's not your problem. You can't make everybody happy. (Though I love you for trying.)

And then there's your show-off friends. I'm a simple guy, and your friends who come out every year thinking that they have to do it better ÷ bigger, louder, more elaborate, more expensive, more attention-getting ÷ than the year before really irk me. I don't think they know what a spiritual Man you are, and it hurts me to think that they mistake you for the alternative-culture Disneyland they've always hoped was hiding around the corner. But again, that's just me. You love them too, and you make as much room for them as you do for me, and I respect you for it. I wish I was as tolerant as you, really.

I wish you could do something about the weather, too. I don't like the cold, and I don't like the rain, and I really don't like them together, and last year I whined a lot because of them. When I melted part of my custom-made synthetic catprint jumpsuit cuddling up against a fire barrel on a particularly cold night in your house, that was pretty much the last straw. Even so, I don't hold the weather against you. It's not your fault I'm a pussy about these things. 

But y'know something? These are all minor quibbles. None of them are big enough problems, individually or collectively, for me to say Sayonara. What's going on here is that I'm trying to do something I've never done before: walk away from a relationship while it's still good. I hope you take comfort in the fact that you've helped me become mature enough to do this.

I'm a very different person than I was on our first date. You can take a good deal of the credit for that. After I came home from that wild weekend, I felt seduced and then abandoned by you; I looked around my tiny apartment and the tiny life I'd lived there, quietly desperate in my faux-happiness as a loner, and said: "What the FUCK now?" I knew I couldn't go back to that tiny life, not after the taste of true connectedness and spiritual satisfaction you'd given me in so short a time. Then you left me alone to figure out what my next steps were, and for awhile I hated you for it.

But eventually I got my courage up and I started wooing you. I volunteered for one, then another, of your service branches. I started hanging out with your friends ÷ my friends, now. (I don't think they'll be too harsh on me when they find I'm dumping you ÷ many of them have debated doing the same over the years, and some have actually gone ahead and done it.) I visited your house when you weren't there, and I fell in love with it ÷ and fell more in love with you, just for your living there. And I had a second date with you, and then another, and another: Flambe Lounge, Beach Burn, Ranger training, camping out with my new Burner friends. I couldn't get enough of you. And on some of those dates I kissed you, first tentatively and then ferociously, and you always kissed me back just a little harder, challenging me. God, I loved you for that.

My life away from you changed too. Not only did I start telling everyone I knew about this fabulous new lover I'd found, and how they too should meet you ÷ not that they wanted to hear about it ÷ but I started doing things differently. Within a few months of our first date, I started revisiting the religious beliefs I'd abandoned after my adolescence. I don't know why; I just felt I had to start going to church again ÷ and I found new meaning in those beliefs, meaning that to this day nourishes me. I don't think the timing was a coincidence.

Because of you, I went on a long, eye-opening trip to a remote part of Asia, something I'd only dreamed of doing before. I became a writer. I became a better friend, and a more community-minded person. 

Hell, I even get off on techno now. 

Before I met you, my motto was, "I want more." Before I met you, I didn't think I was going to get it. Every day now, I give thanks for what I have.

Every relationship has its arc; ours did too. It peaked on our third Labor Day date, when, half out of my mind with sleep deprivation, dehydration, a broken heart, and the understanding that all this was necessary, that I had to break myself down to truly listen to what you wanted to tell me, I let you lead me to a patch of playa where you introduced me to what I call The Divine ÷ the first such meeting I'd ever had. That was an intensely joyful and painful moment, and an intensely private one; only you were there to witness it, but it will burn in my mind and heart forever. In that moment, I got from you what I'd come for, and simultaneously I started to let you go.

Yes, I used you. Don't we all? Sometimes I think that's entirely what you exist for, selfless lover that you are. And I love you for not begrudging me, or any of us, that use. We all grow because of it. I've done my best to give back to you ÷ as a volunteer, as an apostle, as a devotee ÷ and I hope it's been enough. 

I came back last year one final time to break up with you, to tell you to your face, though you were so busy with all of your new friends, making them feel at home and loved as you once did with me, that I didn't try to get your attention. I figured you already knew how I felt, and so I hope you don't mind me making it formal here in Piss Clear.

We've grown together, and then apart, and now I'm dumping you. You have a cousin down in Texas, a little hottie called Flipside that I've been dating, and she's more what I need right now. You understand, don't you? She loves you too, and doesn't want to hurt you. I understand that you have a lot more relatives just like her around the country. It says a lot about how loving and generous you are that you don't try to keep it ÷ whatever it is that makes you so special ÷ all to yourself.

So farewell, Burning Man. At least for the time being. I may come back later ÷ show up on your dust-covered doorstep in my fire barrel-scorched catsuit, bouquet of fire-red roses in hand, saying "Remember me?" And I know you'll take me in.

It's what I love about you, that you never turn away anyone who really wants to be with you.

Your sweetheart,

Abbycat



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