The short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver, is about two married couples drinking gin and having a talk about the nature of love. The conversation is a little sloppy, and the characters make some comments which could either be meaningless because of excessive alcohol in the bloodstream, or could be the characters' true feelings because of excessive alcohol in the bloodstream. Overall, the author uses this conversation to show that when a relationship first begins, the people involved may have misconceptions about their love, but this love will eventually die off or develop into something much more meaningful.
The author sets the scene with the two couples sitting around a table drinking gin and making small talk. The real story begins when the topic of love comes up.
Terri, Mel's wife, was once married to an abusive man, who "...went
on dragging me (Terri) around the living room. My head kept knocking on things.... What do you do with love like that?.... People are different, Mel. Sure, sometimes he may have acted crazy. Okay. But he loved me. In his own way maybe, but he loved me." (pp 110-111) To the reader, it seems hard to believe that there could be love in a relationship where one partner physically abuses the other. However, in Terri's case, both Terri and her ex-husband felt that they were in love. This coincides with the author's theme that early on in a relationship, people have misconceptions about their love.
Later on, Mel describes his former relationship in which he believed to have found love, but now realizes that the love was lost somewhere along the line. Mel says, "There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do." (p 114) Mel's former relationship was once full of love, but eventually the love withered away until it was gone. Also, Mel talks about how love can continue even if you lose your first love. Mel says, "And the terrible thing, the terrible thing is, but the good thing too, the saving grace, you might say, is that if something happened to one of us-excuse me for saying this-but if something happened to one of us tomorrow I think the other person would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough." (p 114) In this quote, Mel reveals that if any one of them dies, his or her spouse would eventually lose the love they once had for him or her, and would then go and love another. So, the author has shown us that love can die off and be replaced by anger or hatred, or even love for another.
In contrast to these fairly pessimistic views on love, the author describes an instance in which a couple found true love. Mel tells an anecdote of an old couple that was admitted to the emergency room after a very bad car accident. The two people were wrapped up in full body casts, and as a result they could not see each other. Mel noticed that the old man was very sad, even though he knew that he and his wife would live, and asked him why. Mel says that "...it wasn't the accident exactly but it was because he couldn't see her through his eye holes....the man's heart was breaking because he couldn't turn his head and see his goddam wife." (p. 117) The author uses this short anecdote to tell the reader that there is hope; sometimes a relationship can turn into a deep love that will not wither away.
The last few paragraphs of the story may seem strange and irrelevant at first, but if one looks closer, one can see that they back up the author's main points. In these lines, the characters seem to be deciding if they will eat or not, but it takes them so long to decide, that it is apparent that something else is going on besides eating. In these lines, "eating" represents continuing the love they have. Laura and Nick, who have only been together for a year or so, and are still "gaga" (p 113) according to Terri, say (with slight indifference) that they would like something more to eat; Nick says, "Sounds fine to me...Eat or not eat. Or keep drinking. I could head right on out into the sunset." (p 119) This shows that Nick and Laura are still in their early stages of love and are not sure if it will either wither away or develop into something deeper. Terri and Mel on the other hand, have finished the early stage of love; Terri says that she would like some more food, but never gets up to fetch it. Also, Mel spills his glass of gin and says rather in a matter of fact way, "Gin's gone," but does not do anything about it. (p 119) Therefore, the early love between Terri and Mel is over, and their love has gone down the less favorable path; it is dying off.
In this story, Raymond Carver is trying to show the nature of love. The author, by using a conversation between two couples, shows us that love starts off misunderstood, and will either die off as the relationship progresses, or will develop into something much more meaningful. While one could argue that some of the comments the characters made were purely out of intoxication and were therefore meaningless, it is also possible that the characters were letting out their true feelings.