Why Festival Romances Don't Have to Last to Be Great
I fell deeply in love at my first festival. It was the soul-shaking, ground-breaking kind of love. It colored everything in my experience with a glittering layer of hope and faith not only in myself, but also in others. As my world opened to all that festivals can offer, my heart was re-opened for the first time in years. The fire of passion and fearlessness was reignited in a way that I hadn’t experienced since I had promised to be someone’s wife nine years earlier.
After the dust had settled from the desert, we took our newly budding affection, born in chaos and freedom, and put it to the test in the city streets. Three months later, we unceremoniously parted ways. I felt shattered. I was deeply hurt and disillusioned, but somehow, underneath it all, grateful.
Plato said, “Love is desire for the perpetual possession of the good.” This theory basically says that humans yearn to cherish and hold tight to anything that brings goodness and love into our hearts. Therein lies the source of our greatest anguish – the possibility of loss. So when we experience a deep bond with another human like we often do at festivals, we want that bond to last against all odds. But what if endings didn't necessarily have to be devastating?
Have you ever fallen in love with someone at a festival only to have it somehow fall apart? It’s tough not to be heartbroken after such an experience – but it’s natural to want to assign value to our romantic interactions based on their ability to stand the test of time. That isn’t an altogether inappropriate way to think. Of course you’d want a partnership, especially one resulting in the creation of a family, to have some longevity. However, the “Great Festival Romance" might not need to fill such a tall order. Does a relationship have to last for it to be exactly the relationship that we need?
Looking back on my festival love, if we had just held each other close and then released, thanking each other for the beauty and light, would we have felt the same fulfillment and saved ourselves the heartache? Or is approaching a loving interaction from that standpoint somehow diminished? And why do we so often hear of these “festival romances”? What is it about festivals that can result in such deep connections?
Jorge Luis Borges said, “So plant your own gardens and decorate your soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” I believe that this is one of the fundamental reasons why love blossoms at festivals. We do the personal work we need to heal. We give of ourselves to others with honesty and vulnerability. We build community through thoughtful interactions. We lift each other up. We show ourselves as humans, not as job titles. I recently had a conversation on the phone where the man on the other end opened the conversation with “Hi Jenna, Joe Johnson here, RVP of Company X.” I was immediately struck by the absurdity of that greeting. This was not a big business negotiation – it was a quick call to discuss a small office matter. But this person defined himself within our interaction as his job title. He wanted me to see his value based on his corporate contribution.
In contrast, the last person I met at Symbiosis , as is so common when meeting fellow festies, opened our interaction with a hug. We synched our breathing in and out in unison to connect. As it turned out, that person runs his own company, but it had no relevance to our interaction in that moment. He just made sure that we went left-arm-up in our hug, because doing so would push our hearts closer together.
This is the crux. At festivals, we push our hearts closer together, and we are in an environment that makes it relatively safe to do so. We bring out our best selves, the brightest gardens of our souls, and freely invite others to stroll our lush corridors.
I believe that’s why I was lucky enough to fall in love at my first festival; because I wasn’t looking for it. I was looking to be better, and that goodness is what attracted this man to my shining light. My intentions for that festival were to 1) Experience the Maker in an intimate way, other than through the religion with which I was raised, 2) Set down the bricks of remembering some very painful experiences in my life to truly move on from their trauma, and 3) Practice self love. I later asked the man who loved me what drew him to me and he said, “You were smiling and laughing in the sun…. it was like you were smiling from the inside of your body, out through every part of you.” And for me, it was his fiercely open energy, both strong and masculine, and his effusive emotion that drew me in. I think that in our Western American Society, these states are becoming increasingly more difficult to sustain in daily life. Festival life offers us the brilliant chance to return to our humanity – to let go of ourselves and catch those around us. And who doesn’t love that?
But it’s true, everything is temporary. As Heraclitus is famous for quoting, “The only thing constant is change.” This goes against the human nature to possess and hold onto moments that we find beautiful. We clutch precious moments in a futile effort to encourage longevity. But the very fact that they are so ephemeral is how we know they are precious. Once an experience no longer makes sense in our lives, we fear the hole it will leave behind. Over coffee, a friend and I discussed past loves and the place at which we’ve arrived that finally allows us to say, “Yes, I will always love them, but that doesn’t mean they have to be in my life.” This is loving freedom. This is gratitude for what we have been given without trying to ask it to stay.
Maybe that’s why festival love is so impactful: Because we can fully experience life and love, unrestrained, and graciously take those memories with us, peacefully bidding one another farewell on our journeys. And maybe embracing the beauty of love’s impermanence is the greatest gift of all.