The Crush Letter No 141: Love Actually Is All Around Us

. 15 min read

I'm Dish and I write a weekly newsletter about life, love, and culture for those 50+. Because midlife and beyond is so much hotter than they said it would be. Hell yes, sign me up for the Dish.

Hello Crush,

Greetings from New Hampshire, where I am joyfully, chaotically, spending the holidays with family.

It is always frenetic (in the funnest possible way) at my parents‘ home for Christmas. People in and out, lots of check-in calls (“are we bringing dessert for Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner? I forgot, can you check the master list?”). And then there is nailing for the count for the big festive meals (which, by necessity, reverses into the grocery shopping, cooking, how much Christmas china gets taken out of storage, place settings, etc.). For instance, it is the 22nd, and we still don’t have a solid count for Christmas dinner. It could be 17, though it might only be 11. If it’s 17, we are “full buffet.” At 16, we could still manage a seated dinner but we’d need to add three leaves to the dining room table and omit the butter plates to fit everyone (in my Mother‘s and my invented parlance, this is a “Four Leaf, No Butter” set-up, as opposed to a “No Leaf, Proper” (full table setting no table extension required)).

We don’t know the number because we never know the number until the last moment because my Mother has always had an open door policy for holiday meals. Which is to say that there is always room at our table for anyone who doesn’t have a place to go. This year we haven’t heard from my brother’s best friend Eric - whether he is joining, and if he is, whether he‘ll be brining his two sons or, if he’s dating somebody, her and possibly hers, too. One year Eric (who we love, and have included in all our family meals for over twenty years) discovered on his second date with an online match, Amy, that Amy and her two kids had no solid plans for Christmas. Eric, alarmed, asked my Mother if perhaps we should include her too, and her kids. We did. (“Imagine,” my Mother said to me, “being at such a loss over the holidays, with two small children, that it is Christmas week and you don’t have a plan for Christmas dinner.“)

We have had book club acquaintances going through divorce, people from the office grounded by bad weather, recently widowed neighbors, you get the picture. Everybody is graciously, warmly welcomed at our table, often at the last minute. My Mother is very kind and her kindness is particularly evident at Christmas. I admire it, and try to emulate it, and also - it adds to the fun. Also the chaos, but it is chaos driven by kindness, and I’m all in for it.

Two of our featured stories this week are on a similar theme — the ways we make room in our hearts and at our tables during the holidays. In Her Dinner With Andre, Lisa Ellex writes about the year her Mother invited each member of her NYC apartment building’s staff for a one-on-one holiday meal. It’s a true ”New York” story, and a delight. A.K.A. Darla writes about getting snowed in with her ex-husband’s new girlfriend (and him) one Christmas in Leave the Husband, Bring the Cannoli. So relatable.

I hope that your holiday is warm and wonderful. And speaking of making room, thanks for making room in your heart, and Saturday mornings, for me. XOX

In This Letter. +Love Actually Is Unhinged Lunacy. Here Are Its Most Heartwarming Vignettes By Dish Stanley I think I finally understand why it works so well on me, and the other 1.4 million viewers who watched it this holiday season. +Leave the Husband, Bring the Cannoli. By A.K.A. Darla This would be my first time meeting my ex-husband’s “GF.” +Her Dinner With Andre. By Lisa Ellex Recalling the holiday that my Mother told me she had sent personal invitations to each member of the staff in her NYC apartment building requesting their company at a “home-cooked dinner for two.” My first thought was to call in a bomb scare to her building. +dishing. +Social Media I Loved This Week +Our Song of the Week I feel it in my fingers

Love Actually Is Unhinged Lunacy. Here Are Its Most Heartwarming Vignettes. By Dish Stanley

Yes, Love Actually is unhinged lunacy. But I am long past defending my fierce loyalty to this hot holiday mess. If you love it, as I do, you love it unconditionally because, let’s be honest, that’s the only way one could. And if you damn it for its stock characters, predictable story lines, backward depictions (and on and on) (which criticisms are rationally argued by Katy Harrington in I Rewatched Love Actually and It’s Still the Worst)) there’s nothing I could say to change your mind. You might be right. In fact, having just rewatched it for the 20th time (that’s right, once a year for 20 years), I’m sure you’re right. And yet, I love it. I love it precisely because it‘s ridiculous and absurd and outrageously fun, not despite it. I need ridiculous, absurd, outrageous fun in my life. It makes me feel happy and alive and perhaps silly, and I particularly need all that during the holidays.

At any rate, I think I finally understand why it works so well. Why it makes me so giddy. Maybe the rest of the world already knew this, but I just came across an article written by Sam Kashner that was originally published in 2021 in Airmail in which Richard Curtis, the writer and director of Love Actually, shared his original concept for the film. “The idea being to create a movie that is more deliberately a group of stories - so that we tell 7 romances - or 14 romances at their key and peak moments - rather than concentrating on one - but go for the moments of maximum emotion …

In other words, Curtis’s goal for Love Actually was to create the emotional equivalent of crack. He purposely dispensed with the sluggish bits around character development and story arc, paring all nine romantic story lines into just their essential, most intense emotional cuts. It’s the movie version of social media, delivering one mind-bathing, quick dopamine #hit after another. And he relies on, actually needs, to deploy the shorthand of stereotypes and predictability in order for us, the audience, to do the pattern recognition necessary to fill in the story lines around the peaks. The twist to the story line involving Billy Mack only works, for instance, because we buy into every stereotype of a washed-up, aging rocker without Curtis having had to fill all that in for us.

Curtis’s formula for creating “moments of maximum emotion“ is like Christmas crack. At least for me, and perhaps also for the other 1.4 million other viewers who watched it this year.

And so, on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Love Actually, let’s celebrate some of its emotional peaks, shall we?

3 Most Heartwarming Vignettes

  1. Sarah and Karl

That moment when Alan Rickman’s character Harry, the head of some kind of nonprofit (the details of which we are spared), asks one of his employees, Sarah (Laura Linney), how long she’s worked at the firm, she responds “Two years, seven months, three days and one hour and 30 minutes.” And then he asks her how long she’s been in love with Karl, the firm’s “enigmatic chief designer,” and she says “Two years, seven months, three days and, I suppose, an hour and 30 minutes.”

(And no, we won’t let it pass that, of course, it was ludicrously intrusive of Harry to not only ask such a personal question of Sarah, but then, further, to go on and give her the unsolicited romantic advice to do something about her crush on Karl.)

And then, days later at the office holiday party, the look on Sarah‘s face when Karl asks her to slow dance and he starts tenderly stroking her hair.

(And, no, we won’t let it pass that playing a “slow dance“ (just like the ones in high school) is ludicrous for an office party, a custom that any sensible HR Department worth anything put a stop to long before 2003.)

  1. Billy and Joe

That moment when Billy sheepishly says this to his long-time, under-appreciated manager: “I realized that Christmas is the time to be with the people you love. And I realized that, as dire chance and fateful cockup would have it, here I am, mid-fifties, and without knowing it, I’ve spent most of my adult life with a chubby employee. And much as it grieves me to say it, it might be that the people I love is, in fact … you.” Billy Mack “Well, this is a surprise.” Joe

  1. Sam and Daniel

That moment when Daniel, Sam’s stepfather, learns that Sam’s suffering is caused by being in love, not grief over the loss of his Mother. Relieved, Daniel says “I thought it might be something worse.” “Worse than the total agony of being in love?” asks Sam. “No, you’re right. Total agony,” responds Daniel.

(No, we never learn the “detail” of where Sam’s Father is and why he is being raised by his stepfather.)

And then the moment when precious Sam explains the reason why love has him in such despair. “SHE doesn’t even know my name. And even if she did, she’d despise me. She’s the coolest girl in school. And everyone worships her because she’s heaven.”

Single Most Triumphant Moment

Sam and Daniel’s brief but brilliant storyline leads to what I believe is the most triumphant moment in the film (and the moment I think the film should have ended on, but it doesn’t quite.) It begins with Daniel, Sam’s wingman extraordinaire, urging Sam on in his chase to catch up with his crush to declare his love, saying to Sam “Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.” (This is my favorite line in the film. An exhortation on how love - with all of its complexity, inconvenience and, even, pain, is worth it.)

“Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”

Sam’s moment of triumph is the moment he decides to leap boldly into declaring his love, come whatever may. The bravery. The charge. The exaltation that is the expression itself, of love.

Leave the Husband, Bring the Cannoli. By A.K.A. Darla

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Snowed in without warning with her ex and his new partner the night before Christmas turned out to be one writer’s Christmas miracle.

One Christmas Eve at the crack of dawn, my ex-husband phoned to ask a favor. He had broken his right foot while skiing the previous day and was unable to make the drive to pick up our daughter for their Christmas Eve visit. With urgency in his voice, he asked if I could bring our daughter to the suburban home he shared with his girlfriend and promised that his girlfriend would drive our daughter home that night. In the spirit of the season, I agreed.

Visions of sugarplums did not dance in my head. This would be my first time meeting the “GF” and I feared this would stress my daughter as much as it stressed me. Besides, her memories of me and her father together in the same room were not the happiest. Over breakfast, I explained the situation. She asked questions appropriate of a seven-year-old, then dressed in her new Christmas outfit, and we were on our way.

When you’re Italian, you are raised to believe it is a sin to arrive at someone's home empty-handed. To avoid an eternity in hell, we stopped at the bakery before heading to the train. Inside, patrons awaited their turn while chatting over the strains of a Dean Martin Christmas CD. When we got to the front of the line, I ordered cookies for my daughter and, as a Christmas peace offering, ordered my ex-husband’s favorite confection: cannoli.

Walking to the train, I carried the sweets in my left hand and held tight to my daughter’s mitten-covered hand with my right, all the while watching her own right hand proudly swing a small gift bag for her dad and his significant other.

The train was full of good cheer, especially from the riders walking back from the bar car, and I made a note to pay a visit there on my way home. This ride was new to me, but my daughter had made this trip many times with her dad. She even knew her way to the taxi stand where we got a car to her dad’s house. Driving by the homes lit with holiday decor made me long for Christmases past, Christmases before the divorce, when we celebrated as a little family. Then, to add to my nostalgia, it began to snow.

The car stopped in front of my ex’s house and my daughter pulled me all the way to the front door as it opened on her dad standing on crutches. He invited us inside and we made our way to the kitchen where the GF was hanging mistletoe. I introduced myself and offered my olive branch of cannoli and cookies. She asked if I’d like a glass of wine. I told her I’d love some wine (boy, would I love some wine!) but really should catch the next train back.

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Her Dinner With Andre. By Lisa Ellex

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A writer recalls her mother’s touching and generous offer to cook dinner for members of her building’s staff, thereby creating a community filled with connection and friendship.

Hard as I try, I cannot think of a cook worse than my mother.

At age 14, I took over in our kitchen as I could no longer decipher my mother’s abstract meal offerings. What’s more, the newly-released Swedish food pyramid had hipped me to the fact that my mother’s meals yielded little nutritional value and LOTS of calories. How I lived to the ripe old age of 14, I’ll never know.

When my mother retired from her government job as a paralegal, she moved to a New York City apartment building with over 1,000 units. She often bragged about the sizable building staff that was on call 24/7, and how they would happily replace a lightbulb, even at 2:00 a.m. As the Christmas season neared, my mom wanted to show her appreciation to the building personnel, but with staff so large, cash gifts were prohibitive for her. When she told me she had sent personal invitations to each member of the staff, requesting their company at a “home-cooked dinner for two”, my first thought was to call in a bomb scare to her building. Instead, I decided to leave it to fate.

So as not to show favoritism, my mother offered each employee the same menu: rigatoni with marinara sauce and Pecorino Romano, a green salad, soda, a dessert, and coffee. When the “big night” arrived, I made sure to keep my phone close by so as not to miss the post-dinner report. At 10:00 p.m. I received a call relaying how mom and the night doorman, Andre, “had a wonderful time getting to know each other.” “How did he like the food?” I asked. “He loved it!” she replied. God bless Andre.

Wondering if Andre called out with food poisoning, I phoned my mother the next evening to get the lay of the land. She rushed me off the phone saying she had to set the table for “Tony the maintenance man” as it was nearing his meal break. My mother continued this activity throughout the holiday season, each day regaling me with personal stories of the building staff. She knew their age, their heritage, where they lived, where they grew up, their relationship status, the names of their partners and children, how long they’ve been at their job, and their life’s ambition.

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Things I thought you might want to know about, and some you probably don’t.

Speaking of Flight of the WASP, (well, not right this moment, but we were in The CRUSH Letter No 138 because it is on Dish’s Bookshop “shelf” Up Next: On Dish’s Nightstand, this story from Messy Nessy, complete with archive photo’s on New York’s Forgotten Outpost of European Aristocracy, is a fascinating look at the history of Gardiner Island in Long Island.

My good friend Nina and I started playing backgammon regularly from afar using the cool Backgammon NJ HD app. One of us sends an invite to the other through the app, and then, if we’re both free we also call and chat over speaker phone while playing. It really feels like being together.

The PBS documentary The Gilded Age (from 2018) is delightful, gossipy, informative look at the world covered far less compellingly in HBO’s series. If you want to know what really went down during this fascinating, volatile, formative period in America’s social and economic history, check out PBS’s full American Experience treatment.

The Most Beautiful Book Cover Art of 2023. A great book cover evokes the tension of the story itself, while startling us with catchy graphic design. Here are two of my favorites, but the full list is gorgeous.

Social Media I Loved This Week










Song of the Week

Christmas Is All Around Us By Billy Mack

Listen Here

This is from the generally delightful Love, Actually playlist, which you can find in full here.

Dish Stanley XO,

Holiday Perspectives. By Dean Christopher
What might our familiar holidays have been under other circumstances? One writer explores a fun and clever reimagining.
Holiday Invites: Say “Yes” to “No”.
You know that “thing” you didn’t want to go to? One PrimeCrush writer gives you permission to stay happily at home.

If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend! And I'd love to have you join us on instagram.

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter from Dish Stanley curating articles & intelligence on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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