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“What We Talk about When We Talk about Love” by R. Carver and Evasive Essence of Relationships

The attitude towards love and relationships changed considerably over the history of occidental societies, in particular, altering the importance of some of its aspects at different stages of progression. In Ancient Greece, for instance, as during many other historical periods, love was not needed for a successful relationship and was seemingly equalized to a disease. It can be argued that the notion of loving relationships, the one that inspired a number of great works of fiction, is comparatively a recent one and is not inherent to the intimate union between two people. Presently, the idea that a set of qualities can distinguish a genuinely loving relationship from a misrecognized infatuation exists and has attracted substantial attention from various types of experts. Terri and Mel seem like a couple that would not pass such an examination – some of their interactions appear disparaging, and the feelings expressed despite the intent cannot be interpreted as loving.

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When talking about a loving relation, the distinction between the notions of looking and seeing is an element that emerges repeatedly. In the short story, Raymond Carver lets the readers gain insight into Terrie’s and Mel’s mutual perceptions as the couple’s interactions suggest a disparity between what they represent for each other. Intimacy and commitment often entail intensified sympathy and awareness of a partner’s emotional needs (Ben-Ze’ev and Brunning 111). This quality is indispensable for a strong bond since it helps a couple navigate problems that inevitably occur in the course of a relationship. For example, in the short story, Terri’s desire to look after Ed in hospital and Mel’s reluctance to allow it serve as an indicator that the couple may lack mutual understanding. Mel’s disapproval, supposedly based on care for his girlfriend’s psychological health, could be interpreted as unconscious jealousy despite the fact that Terri’s and Ed’s relationships were unhealthy. Terri and Mel do not appear to recognize each other’s nature and identity, which renders their union missing one of the most critical elements.

The necessity to encounter a partner more than just a lover and more than just a friend could be a common one for those in search of a lasting romantic connection. Ben-Ze’ev and Brunning state apropos of the topic that “profound romantic love is complex and comprehensive in the sense of referring to all aspects of the beloved, unlike sexual desire or friendship, which are more limited” (101). According to the researchers, a loving relationship is supposed to have multiple layers; unlike a sexual one, it does not focus purely on the physical aspect. Being versatile in its essence, a loving relationship enables partners to satisfy an array of needs, and thus brings an extent of comfort, possibly, not obtainable otherwise. Terri’s and Mel’s interactions in the story seem devoid of the complexity and comprehensiveness that Ben-Ze’ev and Brunning mention. The couple’s communication seems limited in depth; for example, the story about an elderly couple that Mel told and how profoundly it affected him was unnoticed as Terri mistook the sentiment for tipsiness. The inability to understand the other’s emotions seems like a sign of relationships devoid of interdependence.

Conflict is an indispensable part both in life overall and in love-life in particular. That is partially why learning to cope with it, and the desire to overcome disagreements lay the foundation for a reliable, romantic connection. It is affirmed that “the ability to have controversial conversations with loved ones in a diplomatic way is a positive trait, but sometimes you might have to agree to disagree to avoid conflict” (Ryback). The short story presents several instances where Terri and Mel express clashing opinions. Terri’s views on love appear to a degree more deep-seated, although disputable. The correlation between danger and love forms part of the story’s thematic frame as Mel cannot fully accept that his partner accepts violence as a sign of affection – the issue perceptibly vexes him throughout the short story. The quarrel about the usage of “vessel” and “vassal” demonstrates further that the couple is not able to manage conflicts that arise between them (Schilb and Clifford 509). Mel seems to value his opinion higher than a peaceful resolution, while Terrie fails to see the effect of her words.

The need to navigate conflicts involves compromise, which may help a relationship become more caring, as the desire to make concessions is linked to sacrifice – a traditional sign of love. According to Ben-Ze’ev and Brunning, “love is full of compromises, as life is different from our wishes; much of what we want we cannot get. We need to compromise our love in light of reality” (103). The idea that love requires balance, particularly in opinions, seems like a well-established one – the characters under consideration corroborate it with the resolution of their story. The lack of compromise between Mel and Terri becomes visible as the story progresses. Small instances where they push their opinions, potentially, too far accumulate towards the end, resulting in the sense of shared confusion and disenchantment with each other. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Mel and Terri’s relationships seem dysfunctional for different reasons, such as the absence of common ground or attraction.

On the other hand, Mel and Terri, as a couple, are not as hopeless as they may appear. The moments of honesty and transparency that occur between them show that they can communicate without the fear of invalidation and condemnation from the other. It may be claimed that “keeping in mind the other person’s feelings and communicating those feelings can help to bridge any communication gaps” (Ryback). The characters, seemingly, feel comfortable expressing their thoughts – it may indicate trust in their relationships or, contrarily, the lack of consideration for the other. For instance, Mel does not hesitate to talk about the faded love for his ex-wife and affirm the former potency of their marriage, nor does he stop himself from declaring his attraction for Laura. This situation may appear to be a warning sign; nonetheless, openness and sincerity are among the most significant factors for the success of a relationship.

Carver’s short story poses an array of questions regarding the nature of love and intimate relationships. Numerous articles and self-help books aim to alleviate the pain of disillusionment that an intimate connection can bring. Even though Terri and Mel have some of the elements that psychologists declare essential for loving relationships, such as honesty and transparency, the way the characters are portrayed in the short story brings the certitude of their union’s deficiency. The couple appears to lack mutual understanding, which is manifested in how they manage conflicts and misunderstandings. The differences in how Terri and Mel perceive love hinders their attempts to progress in the relationships, leaving them both perplexed and open for another disenchantment.

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Works Cited

Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron, and Luke Brunning. “How Complex is Your Love? The Case of Romantic Compromises and Polyamory.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, vol. 48, no. 1, 2017, pp. 98–116.

Ryback, Ralph. “The 7 Ingredients of a Healthy Relationship.” Psychology Today, 2016, Web.

Schilb, John, and John Clifford. Arguing About Literature: A Guide and Reader. 2nd ed., Macmillan Learning, 2017.

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