Study Guide

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Language and Communication

By Raymond Carver

Language and Communication

"My God, don't be silly. That's not love and you know it," Mel said. "I don't know what you'd call it, but I sure know you wouldn't call it love."

"Say what you want to but I know it was," Terri said. "It may sound crazy to you, but it's true just the same. People are different, Mel." (6-7)

Feeling a little tense? We are, too. We can tell these two are talking about something that's important to them both, but the fact that they're disagreeing about it seems significant. Are they bickering? Bantering? Fighting whole hog?

I touched the back of Laura's hand. She gave me a quick smile, I picked up Laura's hand. […] I encircled the broad wrist with my fingers, and I held her. (15)

Nick's touch signals his approval at what Laura just said to Mel and Terri, about not knowing Ed well enough to judge whether he loved Terri or not. She responds with a smile, and Nick responds with another show of physical affection. These two are cute, for sure, but we can't help but wonder if their love is real love, or something else.

"He used to call my service at all hours and say he needed to talk to the doctor, and when I'd return the call, he'd say 'Son of a b****, your days are numbered.' Little things like that. It was scary. I'm telling you." (27)

Mel is talking about Ed, here, and they weren't exactly bosom buddies. That's because Ed uses violence to communicate. He speaks the language of threats and fear. But according to Terri, it's all in the name of love. Maybe Ed thinks his awful behavior is justified, if it gets him a chance to win Terri back. If that's the case, this guy was more than a little delusional.

Terri looked at us and then back at Mel. She seemed anxious, or maybe that's too strong a word. (68)

Here's the scoop: just before Nick delivers this line, Mel tells Terri to shut up because she said he's talking like a drunk man. We'll pause so you can recover from the awkwardness. We don't know about you, but if our spouse told us to shut up, anxious would be a week word—not a strong one. Livid sounds about right. Maybe irate. The fact that Terri seems anxious might suggest something deeper going on, as if she's worried about upsetting her husband. Worried he might do something drastic.

"Honey, I love you," Mel said.

He leaned across the table. Terri met him halfway. They kissed. (72-73)

The fact that they meet halfway for the kiss might suggest that they meet halfway in their relationship, trying to keep things balanced and fair, right? In any case, it's clear here that their affection is mutual, and their love is no joke. In this moment, they seem to be communicating quite well. For now.

"Bzzzzzz," Mel said, turning them into bees and buzzing them at Terri's throat. Then he let his hands drop all the way to his sides. (132)

Um, Mel? Your ex is the one who's allergic to bees—not Terri. But Marjorie is nowhere near this scene, so maybe he's actually communicating something to his current wife here. But what? Why threaten his ex by pretending to threaten his current squeeze?

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