When I began toying with a new running series about proverbial “chick-flicks” and “chick-lit” and the like, I debated calling the feature something coy and distancing like “Girl Talk.”

I wanted to talk about the pop culture my female friends were telling me about or making me watch, truly I did. But, by calling it “Girl Talk” and talking about how I’d been “swindled” into it all unsuspectingly by girls – whether I’d in fact enjoyed it or not – I was allowing myself to maintain a safe distance without compromising my male gaze. Which is such a guy thing to do…

“This is the girl stuff that girls have gotten me into. It’s kind of cool, but I’d like it more if I was girl. Girls…”

And maybe I would have liked some of those films more if I were female. I might have also liked some less. The point is, increasingly, as 2011 came to an end and I was the one seeking out primetime soaps and romantic comedies and dragging other people along for the company, it didn’t seem like that was the point. At least that wasn’t the point I cared about anymore.

I mean, yes, Downton Abbey is a costume drama where the tension comes from longing glances and not, like, gun battles. Yes Revenge is a soap opera, and those things got started to sell soap to housewives. I’m not a housewife. And yes, Bridesmaids is a romantic comedy. I get that guys don’t normally go for all that, or at least Hollywood tells us we don’t. But, in truth, lots of guys do watch Downton Abbey and its ilk. And they should, because there is some fascinating, profound work going on in these spins on love stories. And I love it. Downton Abbey is unequivocally, without qualifications, my favorite series since Lost.

2010 is the year I embraced that I am a total nerd. I let my bubbling interest in comics and science fiction – mostly garnered from my interest in Lost – solidify into something more real, and when you embrace something like that, you become, in my opinion, a happier pop culture consumer. And a much better critic. If 2010 was the year I stopped worrying and learned to love the graphic novel, then 2011 was the year I realized that fans of Daredevil comics and fans of British soap operas can indeed be the same people. They do not need to be mutually exclusive.

But it took a while to come to that realization. And a lot of great films and books that broke down my walls and are still breaking them down today. If you’d told me at the beginning of last year that my two favorite shows would both be soaps, I would have kicked you. And if you’d told me my two favorite films of 2011 would be defiant examples of how alive and creative the romance genre still is, I would have pointed to the posters for “Thor” and “Captain America” and said, “These will be my two favorite movies of 2011. Go away.”

Here we are in 2012 and I can admit that Downton Abbey, Revenge, Weekend and Beginners thrilled me in 2011. They turned my world upside-down. How did they do that? Why do I find them fascinating? Why does anyone, girl or guy, find them fascinating? Why, in the end, are love stories so damn fascinating? Most of all, why do love stories find themselves so fascinating?

Self-reflexivity has become increasingly prevalent in the romance genre these days. It seems that, in 2011 and 2012, there is nothing a love story loves to do more than comment on how other love stories are told.

That guys don’t normally watch things targeted at chicks simply stopped being interesting to me somewhere along the line, probably about halfway through Blue Valentine, when I realized that the way the films I was watching were playing with the form of the love story as we think we know it  was blowing my mind. That film basically destroyed any preconceived notions I had about how this boys club-girls club thing should work. And so now I’m trying to rebuild the castle the best way I know how. A long-form exploration.

What’s going on with love stories these days? Why are they so self-reflexive? Is ironic distance hurting them or helping them? What makes us connect so deeply with them? Watching one movie, reading one book can’t answer these questions. Not in a way that’s going to satisfy me.

So I’ll watch all of them! (Okay, not all of them.) And, gosh darnit, I’ll love them! This isn’t something my female friends are dragging me into, something I can dismiss as idle “Girl Talk.” No, this is a bigger question than that, something that concerns guys as much as it concerns girls. This is “The Love Connection!”

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