What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

by

Raymond Carver

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on What We Talk About When We Talk About Love can help.

Terri Character Analysis

Terri is Mel’s wife and Nick and Laura’s friend. She’s a thin, attractive woman with long brown hair and dark eyes. As the group of four discusses love, Terri brings up her former relationship with a man named Ed, who would physically abuse Terri while telling her that he loved her. After they broke up, Ed continually threatened Terri and Mel, eventually growing so distressed that he attempted suicide and died in the hospital. Terri still feels sorry for Ed and is adamant that he truly loved her in spite of his violent behavior, whereas Mel doesn’t think that “real love” and violence can mix. This is a significant disagreement that seems to make Terri insecure: she continually asks Mel to validate her belief that Ed really did love her. Importantly, there’s a confusing mix of love and violence within Terri and Mel’s own relationship, as they rapidly switch between declarations of love and hostile outbursts at each other. Mel also dominates Terri in conversation, demeaning her in front of their friends and putting words in her mouth without letting her speak. Notably, Terri easily forgives Mel for being cruel to her just as she forgave Ed in the past. This complicated dynamic demonstrates how love and violence (whether physical or verbal) can’t be neatly separated.

Terri Quotes in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The What We Talk About When We Talk About Love quotes below are all either spoken by Terri or refer to Terri. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Library of America edition of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love published in 2009.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Quotes

“He was dangerous,” Mel said. “If you call that love, you can have it.”

“It was love,” Terri said. “Sure, it’s abnormal in most people’s eyes. But he was willing to die for it. He did die for it.”

“I sure as hell wouldn’t call it love,” Mel said. “I mean, no one knows what he did it for. I’ve seen a lot of suicides, and I couldn’t say anyone ever knew what they did it for.”

Mel put his hands behind his neck and tilted his chair back. “I’m not interested in that kind of love,” he said. “If that’s love, you can have it.”

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri, Ed (Terri’s ex-boyfriend), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 313
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, Nick and I know what love is,” Laura said. “For us, I mean,” Laura said. She bumped my knee with her knee. “You’re supposed to say something now,” Laura said, and turned her smile on me.

For an answer, I took Laura’s hand and raised it to my lips. I made a big production out of kissing her hand. Everyone was amused.

“We’re lucky,” I said.

Related Characters: Laura (speaker), Nick (speaker), Mel McGinnis, Terri, Ed (Terri’s ex-boyfriend)
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ll tell you what real love is,” Mel said. “I mean, I’ll give you a good example. And then you can draw your own conclusions.” He poured more gin into his glass. He added an ice cube and a sliver of lime. We waited and sipped our drinks. Laura and I touched knees again. I put a hand on her warm thigh and left it there.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Laura, Nick, Terri
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

“But sometimes I have a hard time accounting for the fact that I must have loved my first wife too. But I did, I know I did. So I suppose I am like Terri in that regard. Terri and Ed.” He thought about it and then he went on. “There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I’d like to know. I wish someone could tell me. Then there’s Ed. Okay, we’re back to Ed. He loves Terri so much he tries to kill her and he winds up killing himself.”

Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:

“Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if you think I’m wrong. I want to know. I mean, I don’t know anything, and I’m the first one to admit it.”

“Mel, for God’s sake,” Terri said. She reached out and took hold of his wrist. “Are you getting drunk? Honey? Are you drunk?”

“Honey, I’m just talking,” Mel said. “All right? I don’t have to be drunk to say what I think. I mean, we’re all just talking, right?” Mel said. He fixed his eyes on her.

“Sweetie, I’m not criticizing,” Terri said.

She picked up her glass.

“I’m not on call today,” Mel said. “Let me remind you of that. I am not on call,” he said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri (speaker), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 315-316
Explanation and Analysis:

“If I could come back again in a different life, a different time and all, you know what? I’d like to come back as a knight. You were pretty safe wearing all that armor. It was all right being a knight until gunpowder and muskets and pistols came along.”

“Mel would like to ride a horse and carry a lance,” Terri said.

“Carry a woman’s scarf with you everywhere,” Laura said.

“Or just a woman,” Mel said.

“Shame on you,” Laura said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri (speaker), Laura (speaker)
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

“Vassals,” Terri said.

“What?” Mel said.

“Vassals,” Terri said. “They were called vassals, not vessels.”

“Vassals, vessels,” Mel said, “what the fuck’s the difference? You knew what I meant anyway. All right,” Mel said. “So I’m not educated. I learned my stuff. I’m a heart surgeon, sure, but I’m just a mechanic. I go in and I fuck around and I fix things. Shit,” Mel said.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Nick, Laura
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, the husband was very depressed for the longest while. Even after he found out that his wife was going to pull through, he was still very depressed. Not about the accident, though. I mean, the accident was one thing, but it wasn’t everything. I’d get up to his mouth-hole, you know, and he’d say no, it wasn’t the accident exactly but it was because he couldn’t see her through his eye-holes. He said that was what was making him feel so bad. Can you imagine? I’m telling you, the man’s heart was breaking because he couldn’t turn his goddamn head and see his goddamn wife.”

Mel looked around the table and shook his head at what he was going to say.

“I mean, it was killing the old fart just because he couldn’t look at the fucking woman.”

We all looked at Mel.

“Do you see what I’m saying?” he said.

Related Characters: Mel McGinnis (speaker), Terri, Nick, Laura
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

“There isn’t a day goes by that Mel doesn’t say he wishes she’d get married again. Or else die,” Terri said. “For one thing,” Terri said, “she’s bankrupting us. Mel says it’s just to spite him that she won’t get married again. She has a boyfriend who lives with her and the kids, so Mel is supporting the boyfriend too.”

“She’s allergic to bees,” Mel said. “If I’m not praying she’ll get married again, I’m praying she’ll get herself stung to death by a swarm of Ricking bees.”

“Shame on you,” Laura said.

“Bzzzzzzz,” Mel said, turning his fingers into bees and buzzing them at Terri’s throat. Then he let his hands drop all the way to his sides.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Laura (speaker), Marjorie (Mel’s ex-wife), Nick
Page Number: 321
Explanation and Analysis:

“I’ll put out some cheese and crackers,” Terri said.

But Terri just sat there. She did not get up to get anything. Mel turned his glass over. He spilled it out on the table. “Gin’s gone,” Mel said.

Terri said, “Now what?”

I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.

Related Characters: Terri (speaker), Mel McGinnis (speaker), Nick, Laura
Related Symbols: Sunlight
Page Number: 321-322
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire What We Talk About When We Talk About Love LitChart as a printable PDF.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love PDF

Terri Character Timeline in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The timeline below shows where the character Terri appears in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
...in through the big kitchen window at the home of Mel and his second wife, Terri, in Albuquerque. They’re sitting around the kitchen table with Nick and his own wife, Laura,... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Terri shares that her ex-boyfriend, whom she lived with before Mel, tried to kill her because... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Mel tells Nick and Laura that Terri’s ex-boyfriend threatened to kill him. Finishing his drink, Mel reaches for the bottle of gin... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Terri recalls that, when she broke up with Ed, he’d tried to kill himself by drinking... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
...used a .22 caliber pistol to shoot himself—the same one he’d used to continuously threaten Terri and Mel. The couple had lived in fear while this was going on, and Mel... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
...days, but his head swelled up to twice its normal size—a sight that disturbed Mel. Terri had wanted to visit Ed in the hospital, which she and Mel got into a... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Laura asks who won the fight, and Terri answers that she was in the room with Ed when he died—no one else was... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...say something. In response, Nick takes her hand and makes a show of kissing it. Terri goodheartedly tells them that they’re making her sick—they’re still in the honeymoon phase of their... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Finally, Mel goes on a long diatribe about love. He says that he loves Terri, and Nick loves Laura, both sexually and emotionally. But he struggles with how to reconcile... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
After Mel finishes rambling, Terri grasps his wrist and asks him if he’s drunk. Mel snaps back that he’s just... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...realize that none of them know “what we’re talking about when we talk about love.” Terri tells him not to talk like he’s drunk when he’s not, and Mel snaps at... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
...and severe cuts and bruises. What saved them, Mel says, was their seatbelts. At this, Terri interrupts to joke that Mel is speaking on behalf of the National Safety Council. She... (full context)
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...a chef if he could go back and choose a different path. He asks, “Right Terri?” But before she can answer, Mel affirms that Terri knows this is true. (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
...he could carry a woman with him instead, to which Laura replies, “Shame on you.” Terri asks Mel what would happen if he came back as a serf instead, and Mel... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Terri interrupts to point out that Mel said “vessels” when he meant “vassals.” Irritated, Mel rebuts... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love and Violence Theme Icon
...the room has grown dimmer. Laura and Nick urge Mel to continue his story, and Terri jokes that the old couple is just “older but wiser” now. Mel doesn’t think this... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
...take a shot of gin so they can finish the bottle and go to dinner. Terri says that Mel is depressed and suggests that he take a pill, but Mel replies... (full context)
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Mel abruptly asks whether the others mind if he calls his children. Terri asks what he’ll do if his ex-wife, Marjorie, answers the phone, reminding him that he’ll... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Terri shares that Mel constantly talks about how he wishes Marjorie would either remarry or die,... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Failure of Language Theme Icon
Laura says that she’s starving. Terri offers to put out some cheese and crackers, although she stays seated instead of going... (full context)