‘Love Actually’ Turns 20 This Year, But Does it Hold Up? We Tapped a Relationship Expert

Plus, his pick for the most toxic couple

love actually dating donts
Universal Pictures

Whether you watch it religiously every year or you find it incredibly cheesy, you're almost guaranteed to encounter Love Actually, at some point during the holiday season. The beloved classic, which was released 20 years ago this year, is lauded as one of the greatest Christmas movies and rom-coms of our time—which explains why you've seen so many memes of Mark (Andrew Lincoln) professing his love for Juliet (Keira Knightley) with cue cards. But is it actually as romantic as we remember?

To find out, we enlisted the help of dating expert Connell Barrett, the founder and executive coach of professional dating site Dating Transformation, in analyzing the amorous actions of the characters in the movie. As it turns out, the flick is full of some of his biggest dating don'ts. Keep reading for his full breakdown—and his pick for the film's most toxic couple.

love actually dating dont 1

1. Dating Don't No. 1: Hooking Up with Coworkers You Supervise

In Love Actually, romances amongst coworkers, like the ones brewing between Harry (Alan Rickman) and Mia (Heike Makatsch) or David (Hugh Grant) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), may seem romantic, but it's not the wisest idea, according to Barrett. As he explains, dating a coworker is already a big risk, due to potential office gossip, favoritism and awkward tension after breaking up—just to name a few. And dating a subordinate can lead to even more complications at work because of power dynamics.

"Don’t ever date or pursue someone you supervise, manage or wield power over at work," he tells us. "It’s just wrong and it can lead to a hornet’s nest of problems for you, them and your company, from harassment claims to litigation. There are five workplace romances in the film, and three of them involve power imbalances."

love actually dating dont 2
Universal Pictures

2. Dating Don't No. 2: Making Over-the-Top Romantic Gestures

If you're thinking about taking a page from Mark's book and investing in some cue cards to express your feelings, then you might want to hit pause. Barrett says such grand gestures can be a huge turn-off that puts the other person in an awkward position—especially when it's early in the relationship.

"Don’t make grand, over-the-top romantic gestures in the courtship process," he advises. "What works in rom-coms will make you seem needy and over-eager IRL, while putting undue pressure on the other person."

love actually dating dont 3
Universal Pictures

3. Dating Don't No. 3: Professing Your Love Before the First Date

Talk about awkward! In Love Actually, we see Liam Neeson's Daniel try to be a wingman for his son, Sam (Thomas Sangster). The latter is 100 percent convinced that his infatuation with his American classmate (Olivia Olson) is true love—never mind that they barely know each other. Daniel encourages Sam to tell his crush how he feels. Did it give us the feels? Well, yes. But Barrett says attempting this bold approach in real life will come off as way too intense. 

"Don’t profess love to someone if you haven’t had even one date with them," he says. "It takes time for two people to learn if they’re meant to be a couple."

love actually most toxic couple
Universal Pictures

Who Is the Most Toxic Couple in Love Actually?

And the award for the most toxic pairing goes to...Mark and Juliet!

In case you need a refresher on their storyline, Juliet is newly married to Mark's good friend, Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), but it's later revealed that Mark has been harboring a secret obsession with her. And he doesn't handle those feelings in a healthy way at all.

Barrett says, "He thinks he’s in love, but he’s not—he’s obsessed. They’ve barely ever spoken. He mistaking infatuation for love." 

He adds, "Mark is also a bad, dishonest friend to Peter. By appearing at the newlywed couple’s door, Mark risks damaging both his friendship with Peter as well as the newlywed’s relationship. It’s a selfish act."

To make matters even worse, Juliet doesn't hold him accountable and even briefly reciprocates. "Does Juliet tell her stalker to get lost? Nope," says Barrett. "She kisses him, in effect cheating on her new husband just days after their wedding." Yikes.

Despite these problematic relationships, Barrett notes that the film does offer some solid insight on how to find love in other ways. "Much of this movie has aged poorly, especially the work-related romantic dynamics and quite a bit of ... shaming jokes," he says. "But it offers a timeless formula for finding love: Be your real self, take romantic risks and let the chips fall. The message is as true in 2023 now as it was in 2003."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves!

nakeisha campbell bio

Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Nakeisha has been interviewing celebrities and covering all things entertainment for over 8 years, but she has also written on a wide range of topics, like career...