“You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…” ~ Kenny Rogers, The Gambler
My husband taught me to play Poker–Texas Hold ’em–early in our friendship, and we used to play often with friends in Recovery. (To my Probation Officer: no, not for cash. Oh yeah, I’m not on probation anymore…) It became a friendly competition to enter tournaments and see which one of us would come out on top. He never went easy on me at the table, but our lessons would continue after every game, as he dissected the play and shared observations about the other players, their strategies, and their “tells.”
If you’ve ever watched the show “The Mentalist” (about a former con-man “psychic” who puts his people-reading skills to work solving crimes)–well, that’s my husband. I live with a Mentalist. He worked eighteen years in Corrections, ending as the top trainer for State of Oregon before he and I (separately but simultaneously) crash-landed our careers with alcoholism and landed in Rehab–which is where we met, and the Poker lessons began. He reads people and situations, body-language and particulars, notices details that I can’t even seem to see… Sometimes I wonder afterward if I’d even been in the same room when he shares what he’s noticed (which I didn’t see at all), and his conclusions about a person or situation–usually finishing with the disclaimer, “But I’m probably wrong.” I’m sure he has been, on some occasion, but I can’t remember one.
Our teenager seems perversely proud of the fact that he can’t seem to pull anything over on us–between our alcoholic histories (sorry to say, alcoholics tend to be masters at manipulation, and consequently have high-functioning BS-detectors) and Dad’s insightful intuition, teenage hijinks do NOT go unnoticed or undiscussed in our household. After a fairly brief learning-curve (involving frequent rueful head-shaking on the part of the teenager, always accompanied by, “How did you KNOW?”), he simply began to operate on the assumption that we always know what he’s up to–and therefore talks to us about pretty much everything. Consequently, we have the opportunity to walk through decision-making processes with him–and though we may not “approve” of every choice he’s ever made, he does consider the consequences of his choices with more maturity than many an older person.
I blame that same mentality–the default assumption that my husband magically knows what’s in my head–for my occasional neglect in updating him on things he couldn’t possibly have “guessed” at. (“I didn’t tell you the Defensive Line was coming over for dinner?” I knew, so I strangely assumed he did…) It’s not really that I’m expecting him to read my mind–it’s more that I’m accustomed to NOT having to verbalize a lot of my communication with him. He just… reads me.
He taught me about “tells” (give-aways or clues in body-language) in the context of the Poker table, and though I never hope to equal his observational skills, I’ve been a ready study. Occasionally I’ve come out ahead of him in a tournament, and even the one time I played at a casino (in Reno a couple years ago, on our way to visit the California kids) we each left the table with more than we’d sat down with.
Reading tells away from the Poker-table is a far more critical skill, though–and one I rely on heavily. My husband has a few, particularly when he’s stressed or upset, and he knows he can’t brush away my concern when those tells surface. (He knows he HAS tells, but he doesn’t know what they are. A person who knows his own tells could mask them or use them–and he doesn’t want to know.) I’m grateful for that “red flag” that pops up when I might otherwise be oblivious; on a night like tonight, a sudden and unexpected appearance of The Tell has me knocking gently on his forehead, asking him to share what’s on his mind. Today it’s not something I can “fix” or help with, except for whatever help can be found in sharing the burden of a worry. At least I know when to Hold Him.