Who Dumps Who In 'Love Actually'? Unpacking Sarah & Karl's Unconsummated Romance

Every year when Christmastime rolls around, people love to get tangled in the complicated couples (or throuples? quadruples?) of Love Actually, and although each story has its touch of melancholy, one stand-out pairing really has a sour ending. Yes, I'm talking about the tale of co-worker crushes Karl and Sarah... and Sarah's brother, Michael. It seems that we should get over an unconsummated romance from a 13-year-old Christmas movie, but all these years later, we are still left debating if it was Love Actually's Karl or Sarah who rejected that ultimate relationship. And in honor of Christmas disappointments everywhere, I'm going to unwrap this lump of coal.

The quick recap is this: Sarah (played by Laura Linney) is understandably head-over-heels over her dreamy AF co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), and he seems to have his eyes on her, too. The romantic tension is palpable and frustrating, until viewers are rewarded when the two slow dance at the company Christmas party. Cut to: Karl driving Sarah home to her apartment, and them getting ready to hook-up for realzies. This is the moment where everyone gets shirtless and we, the audience, are going to see some well-deserved boinking, the culmination of two-and-a-half years (plus change) of lust. To say the least, Sarah is stoked. 

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The twist? Sarah gets a phone call that interrupts their make-out sesh. Turns out, she has a mentally ill brother who needs her rather constantly, and suffice to say, it kills the mood.

Her circumstances are tragic, and she knows this. What is she going to do? With her parents out of the picture, she seems to be the sole caretaker of her brother, even with him in assisted care. She's the one who has to pick up the pieces if he's freaking out. So in terms of cutting the tryst short, that's all her. She could take the phone off the hook and not indulge in talk of the Pope and Bon Jovi. She cannot fly far away from that hotness. Unfortunately for everyone involved, she's better than that, so in terms of ending the interaction early, that's all her.

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However, in terms of not pursuing the almost-relationship further, it's all Karl. Sarah has been pining for this forever, and it pains her on a soul level that the evening is botched. There will be other nights. Complications and interruptions aside, they can make this work. So when Christmas Eve rolls around, Karl has the opportunity to be brave and say he wants to give this a real chance. He looks on the verge of saying it, of saying something, but alas, it never happens (that is, on-screen at least).

Alternate answer: The staff at the facility that Michael is staying at is totally to blame. Honestly, his sister was getting home wicked late and receiving these phone calls. She's pouring good money into that place. Isn't it someone's job to take care of the patients at that hour? Like, not to be flippant, mental health care is really important, I just can't help thinking that some orderly is dropping the ball here. Anyway.

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The truth is, it's a rotten situation, point blank. Although fans want to condemn Karl and his perfectly chiseled abs for not following up with his feelings and loving her selfless goodness, he isn't overtly a monster for not want to invest. Aside from the fact that they work together (and we've all seen how office romances play out in this movie), her taking care of her brother is a situation that comes with a lot of baggage. It's something that a couple can really only tackle together if they're in love and in it for the long haul. Clearly, while Karl pegged Sarah as his work crush, he's not in love, and doesn't think the romance outweighs the risk.

It doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of love in this storyline. It just gets re-purposed when Sarah spends Christmas Eve with her brother. Love actually comes in many different forms, and though my heart goes out to Sarah for not getting the romantic variant she deserves, it's important to believe the universe will eventually reward her for putting out love in another way.

Images: Universal Pictures; Giphy (3)

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