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“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver,  is a story that takes place with a bottle of gin and a group of friends hanging out, who happen to be couples. Nick and Laura are a newlywed couple and Mel and Terri are also married. The story doesn’t provide us with much background information, as it just dives into the conversation being held between the friends. However, the language shared between the friends reveal a great deal of information about the characters themselves, their current relationships and past. As the couples jump into the topic of love, the author reveals that love can be a mess and it can be painful. Love is mysterious to everyone. 

Right at the beginning the passage states “Terri said the man she lived with before she lived with Mel loved her so much, he tried to kill her.” Immediately you’re probably wondering how in the world someone could call this love. This quote exhibits how Terri felt an abusive type of love, yet she still describes it as being in love, even if it is unorthodox. However, for most people (myself included), this is an unhealthy form of love and is not something that should be felt so deeply. Terri claimed that no matter how crazy she sounded, she knew that her ex-boyfriend loved her immensely even though he tried to kill her and would use such negative language to her. It almost makes you wonder why Terri considers this love and what in her past brought her to this moment.

On the other hand, Nick and Laura share a much more affectionate love. “I touched the back of Laura’s hand. She gave me a quick smile. I picked up Laura’s hand. It was warm, the nails polished, perfectly manicured. I encircled the broad wrist with my fingers, and I held her”. This random interaction between Nick and Laura shows how they value each other so much, even in the little things. This can also explain why they think Terri is crazy for how she feels her ex-boyfriend loved her. But is this a basic and boring love? Although the love between Nick and Laura is more physical in the orthodox way, Carver could be using them as an example of your everyday love that eventually might not bring anything exciting. This also shows how Nick and Laura who are newlyweds and in the “honeymoon” phase can’t understand a love other than the kind that gives you butterflies, because of how new their marriage is. It’s not to say that their love is wrong, just they don’t see how someone could find love in an attempted  murder. 

Mel then tells a story of an older couple who came into the ER one night from a car accident. He explains how they lived, but the old man was so upset that he couldn’t see his wife through the bandages on his face. He ached in pain from not being able to see his wife, even under the circumstances and what they had just gone through. Mel describes this as true love, love that is so deep and lasts so long. However, this does not mean that Mel is right. This differs so much from the love that Terri first described, and from the love that Nick and Laura show the readers. The love here is so passionate and intimate. This couple feels physical pain from being without each other, rather than the pain Terri felt from being abused. However, this also can be seen as unhealthy and strange that people feel so much pain just from not being able to see each other. Although, they feel the pain in different ways, they are both described as love. This older couple represents a love that is lasting and that will survive anything, which contrasts from the love within Nick and Laura and Mel and Terri. Love isn’t something that can just be thrown away once it is over and done with. This is a type of love that Terri hasn’t experienced yet. For the obvious reasons, she hasn’t been married to Mel for that long and also because she has yet to see how love could be that passionate. With her ex-boyfriend, love was always rough and controlling, and as for her marriage with Mel, we don’t get that close of a look at it to determine the love they have for each other. Either way, this type of love is a mystery to the couples in this story, especially Terri. 

Spiritual love, affectionate love, simple love and abusive love. All of these different forms of love bring me back to the initial statement that Terri made about her abusive ex-boyfriend. Is Terri crazy the way she describes love? No, she isn’t. If that is the way she felt he showed her love then we can’t say that it’s not true. The only explanation is that her type of love is mysterious. Love can be shown in so many ways, even if it doesn’t fit the ordinary idea of what people think of love. From the love that Terri described with her abusive ex and the love between Nick and Laura, it is almost too difficult for an outsider to understand. However, drawing back from everything examined, we can conclude that love is confusing and a mystery, and most of the time it won’t make sense to everyone. The language that Carver uses is more than just showing that love is different for everyone, it could go as far as revealing people’s past or how they were raised and the type of environment they were exposed to. The love that you see and feel will never be fully clear to anyone except for yourself.


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