I fell in love at Burning Man—and one year later, we said “I do”

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Photo: Annie McElwain

On Monday, August 28, 2017, I called my Grandma from a hotel room at the Nugget Resort in Reno, and said, “Grandma, guess what? Today I’m going to meet my husband. Isn’t that wonderful?” I was at the very end of my journey from Venice, California, to Burning Man, an annual festival where almost 80,000 people gather in the Nevada desert for one full week to turn off technology, connect, and “spiritually reset.” In honor of my third burn, I arrived in Black Rock City—the mirage-like metropolis created especially for Burning Man every year—with a clear intention: to meet my future husband.

Though this may sound crazy, I believed it was entirely possible. During my first two experiences at the festival, I witnessed countless people find love on the playa. Yes, some of them were momentary, psychedelic-induced sparks. But other matches proved longer lasting. Take my neighbors, Jessie and Matthew, for example—they met at Burning Man and returned this year as wife and husband. I so desperately wanted to find that soul-connected love in the dust, the kind of love that fills you up with light.

But there was one thing standing in my way. As a young and (sometimes) struggling entrepreneur, spending a few thousand dollars on a one-week festival in the desert didn’t sound like the most financially responsible idea. Between the ticket price, camping gear, a bike, camp dues, costumes, food, and supplies, the festival is expensive and requires a deep commitment upfront. You can imagine my parents’ reaction when I told them about my brilliant plan to deplete my savings account to “go to Burning Man to meet my soulmate.” They did their best to discourage me, listing all of the reasons why I shouldn’t attend.

You can imagine my parents’ reaction when I told them about my brilliant plan to deplete my savings account to “go to Burning Man to meet my soulmate.”

A few days later, my friend Melissa asked me if I was going to Burning Man this year. When I explained the logistical blocks in my way, she told me to download the audiobook of Esther and Jerry Hicks’ Money and the Law of Attraction and listen to it repeatedly, even in my sleep, to fully understand the power of positive energy to manifest what we really want. It gave me permission to truly trust and listen to my intuition, for the first time in 28 years.

And as soon as I mentally committed, the plan seemed to unfold perfectly. My Harvard Business School classmate, Roxy, invited me to be a part of her camp, auspiciously called “Infinite Love,” and her friend, Harrison Love, gave me a ticket. A girl named Antonia Love offered to take care of my dog for the week. At the very last minute, I managed to find a ride with my friend and fellow female entrepreneur, Emily. Her dad, an avid burner, bought us a hotel room at the Nugget Casino for one last shower and sleep before arriving.

On the first day of the festival, wearing a long, gold dress with a matching gold heart pinned to the top, I arrived at my camp buzzing with energy. At Burning Man, you get to choose your own adventure, and part of that adventure is choosing your name for the week. In order to maximize my chances of finding my future husband, I decided to name myself “Kisses.”

I found love at Burning Man
Photo: Jessica Assaf

As soon as I arrived, I saw the tan back of a man I was compelled to follow. The man walked over to my friend Roxy, so I walked behind him to greet her and see his eyes. I introduced myself as “Kisses,” and he said, “Hi, I’m Relax,” greeting me with a kiss on both cheeks. I responded with a kiss on his lips—and we continued kissing until Roxy said, “It’s Alex’s birthday!” When she said the name “Alex,” I took a step back, stared into his big, green eyes, and said, “Wait, I know you.”

I realized that I had met Relax/Alex at a birthday party in Venice the month before. So why did we fall for each other so quickly this time—we were in love before we knew each other’s phone numbers—and not when we’d originally met in July?

I believe it’s because Burning Man strips you down to your most human essence, reconnecting you with your inner child through curiosity, art, and play. In an environment where you are free to express yourself without judgment (or technology), it becomes easier to connect with people authentically and quickly. And then there’s the gifting economy, which makes anything you need readily available in exchange for a hug, high five, or simple “thank you”—no money required. This environment impels you to notice the beauty of every moment. If you’ve never been to Burning Man, you might be tempted to write it all off as the effect of mind-altering substances—but there’s so much more to it than that, and you don’t have to partake in anything illegal to experience its magic.

In an environment where you are free to express yourself without judgment (or technology), it becomes easier to connect with people authentically and quickly.

When I met Alex, I felt and looked like the best version of myself. Without the distractions of social media, plans, time, and money, we could be our truest selves, exposing our vulnerabilities with comfort and confidence. Our first dust storm was terrifying—tiny rocks sprayed at our bare legs from all directions, and as we held together on the rocky ground and wondered if it would ever end, I felt so safe in his arms. During one midnight stroll, an older couple stopped us and made us promise to “never stop listening to the music.” We built the foundation of our relationship in the comfortable cradle of this community.

The only challenging time was readjusting to society after Burning Man ended, a phase we call “decompression.” After a week of living in pure idealism, it was inevitable there were a few rough days of reacclimating to real life. This time required a little extra adjustment, as Alex and I moved in together immediately after returning home to Los Angeles. We slowly adapted to “normal” life—it was strange to integrate cell phones and laptops into our relationship, and at times, we still resent each other for the daily attention we give to our screens.

It took months to unravel the many facets of ourselves and learn to accept one another for who we are outside of Burning Man, but almost exactly a year later, Alex and I got married in the Malibu mountains surrounded by our closest family and friends. My mom ended her wedding speech by saying, “Thank you, Jess, for not listening to my advice and going to Burning Man anyway.”

And I think this is the most important thing to take away from my story. Too often, we talk ourselves out of what we truly want, or we listen to others and ignore our own inner voices. By trusting and following my intuition against all logic, I found my soulmate at Burning Man. It took a web of support and friendship, optimism, and self-love to get there. But as we say at Burning Man, “the playa provides”—most people end up finding exactly what they are looking for in the dust. The first step is believing it’s possible.

After 10 years in the nascent natural beauty industry, Jessica Assaf went to Harvard Business School thinking she’d come out with a next-level beauty idea—instead she graduated with a plan for revolutionizing the cannabis product industry, with women at the helm. Now she’s cofounder of hemp education platform Hempia and founder of Cannabis Feminist, a go-to for (ridiculously fascinating) intel on the movement. 

If you’re still looking for love, first find out what you most need from a relationship, according to your Myers-Briggs type. Then, hit up these six healthy spots to find your next date, no swiping required. 

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