“All in…”

…even if you’re not playing with a full deck.

That phrase came up in a a workshop brainstorming session about intimacy and vulnerability. It speaks to one of the more difficult aspects of love: the courage to admit you do.

Archetypes to the Rescue!

There’s a movie I love – I won’t mention it by name, since I’m about to deliver spoilers – where the protagonist’s goal is to win a poker game. Now, I’m a lousy poker player, barely understand the rules, but one part of it that catches my attention is the idea of “all in.” It means that the player is betting everything they have on their winning hand.

The protagonist in the movie plays well, then things get a little dicey, and finally, to suspenseful music, he says “All in.” Everyone around the table exchanges significant looks. The sidekick whispers to the love interest “I hope he knows what he’s doing…” The cards are slowly revealed, one by one…

And he loses.

Big time. Totally busted. Falls flat on his face. His career is over, he has not gotten the girl, has not saved democracy, and worst of all he has to watch the Big Evil Guy gloat across the table.

I enjoy those kinds of moments in movies – “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” – but I like that one most of all. Because unlike the ones where the hero miraculously cracks the computer code, nails the dance solo, wrestles the parachute away from the bad guy in midair – that particular poker game shows what you really risk when you go “all in.”

You risk failure.

What Does This Have to Do With Love?

I’ve found in my work both on myself and with others that often the hardest part of love is not finding it, not keeping it, not even defining it. People seem to know what they love. It resonates somewhere deep inside when they see it – whether it’s a person, a place, an act. It’s that thing that you do that, when you’re done, you think why don’t I do that more often?

The answer, I believe, is courage. People have a hard time admitting what they love, because often what they love is not in line with who they think they are, or (more likely) who they think they should be. Nice girls don’t want that kind of thing. Good men get married and settle down. My parents/children will be disappointed if I don’t act “responsibly.”

All of these are rationalizations that keep us from having to admit that we love. Even if we try and admit it, we tend to hedge bets, often “justly”: Oh, we’re just friends. We’re just dating. It’s just a casual thing. I’m just playing around with it, seeing if I like it. When we know full well that “it” consumes our every waking moment. But that would make us…insane, right? What would people think?

Or we do some socially acceptable token version of commitment, like changing a facebook status or clicking the little “like” button. Don’t get me wrong, I hope you “like” this post – but if you really liked it, if you really let yourself be “all in” with your reactions and thoughts, you’d do more than a thumbs up. More than a comment. You’d write your own essay, you’d create a song, you’d learn to play poker, something big.

When you’re “all-in”, you tend to do things in what Havi calls “A Grand Fashion.”

The secret is: when you do things big, it’s harder to be scared of them. It’s just so ridiculously over-the-top that it becomes easy, and even if you are heading towards those inevitable rocks you can’t help a giggling “WHEEEEEEEE!!” all the way down.

That’s what I’m trying to keep in mind over the next few weeks as I travel and relationships deepen and change. I’m going to fight the fear of how I’ve fallen on my face going “all in ” before, and focus on the simple joy of being “all in” just for the sake of itself.

To do anything else, I think, would simply be cheating yourself out of love. And what’s the point in that?

2 thoughts on ““All in…””

  1. Heh, read this post earlier and it reminded me of a Ben Folds Five single they just released online. Seriously, they could have written the song off your post.

    I haven’t quite fallen in love with the song yet, the tone of some of the phrasing is a little too jarring, but it’s got a good message and I’m going to buy the album since I like thier other albums so much.

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