When Terri asks Mel is he is drunk, he becomes defensive because he realizes that something about his personality must be changing. In other words, he is getting drunk and behaving drunk but does not want to admit it and continues to drink to cover his emotions.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the story in relation to drinking is the fact that the characters are drinking as if it were second nature to them. They are drinking gin and it as if this is something they do every day. The gin and the water "kept going around" (Carver 170) the table and the coupes drink freely, conversing as if everything is normal. They are pouring gin into their glasses as if it is iced tea. When Terri finishes the last of the first bottle of gin, she shakes the bottle and Mel simply gets up from the table, gets another bottle of gin and they proceed. As Mel pours everyone a new glass of gin, no one stops him and no one seems to be pathetically drunk. It is worth noting, however, that Mel does get drunk and it becomes evident in his behavior. It is safe to assume that Mel is a character that Carver might have molded from his experiences with alcohol. While no one in this story gets sloppy drunk to the point that they pass out, Mel does exhibit drunken, loud, obnoxious behavior and the result of this behavior is nothing.
Mel, with all of his success, cannot answer the question that he posits for everyone in the room and this is the problem. Certainly, he attempts to describe love but the fact that he cannot relate to it is what seems to be eating away at him. He has seen love, or what he perceives to be love, in the old couple and he simply cannot relate to it. This leads him to feel a sense of regret and sadness that he cannot put into words. He knows these feelings stem from his lack of love and passion and he drinks to cover these feelings and perhaps cause him to feel better if for just a short time. In fact, the entire group is drinking to escape something. Mel and Terri are teetering on the edge of something that looks like divorce if they are not careful and Nick and Laura are just along for the ride. No one at the table is filled with a real passion -- not even the couple that is in the early stages of love. As the sun sets, the couples stay seated in silence and in darkness, wondering what to do next. With the gin gone, there seems to be no reason to do anything. Even as daylight wanes, nothing -- not even hunger motivates anyone to move from the table. This final scene illustrates the stifling affect of alcohol. They are all at least a little tipsy and they seem to have reached a stage of "zoning out" and have accomplished nothing and do not feel any better than they did when set out to have a nice evening.
Our vices can destroy us and this is the point Carver illustrates in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Carver's intimate experience with alcoholism allows him to provide an honest look at what the disease can do to people, despite their best efforts. Mel might be the smartest of the group but alcohol diminishes this and every other positive personality trait. While the characters in this story attempt to fill a void in their lives or simply try to have a nice time, the evening ends with everyone sitting around the table doing absolutely nothing, surrounded by darkness. This image of four drunken adults sitting around a table in the dark represents the effects of alcohol on humanity.
Brent, Liz. "Critical Essay on 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.'" Short Stories
for Students. 2001. GALE Resource Database. www.infotrac.galegroup.com Information
Retrieved April 20, 2009.
Carver, Raymond. "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Where I'm Calling
Nordgen, Joe. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 130: American Short-Story Writers
Since World War II." 1993. GALE Resource Database. www.infotrac.galegroup.com