As Michael Kimmel, perhaps America's foremost sociologist of masculinity, pointed out last month, Millennials are far more likely than their older peers to see non-sexual friendship between men and women as normal.Kimmel notes that in 1989, the year that —with its famous dismissal of the possibility of platonic intimacy between men and women—was released, only about 10 percent of his college students would admit to having a close friend of the other sex.
' A few hands perhaps, in the more than 400 students in the class." Kimmel's conclusion jibes with what I saw at the Bold Boundaries conference.Speaker after speaker, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, pointed out that even many sexually conservative Christian churches are opening up to the possibility of male-female friendship.We're accustomed to warnings about how the internet facilitates both emotional and physical affairs, but several of the speakers at Bold Boundaries pointed out that the non-corporeal nature of online communication actually made these friendships easier and less sexually charged.This is as true, Christian blogger and musician Alise Wright told me, for friends who know each other "in real life" as it is for those who've never actually met.While the age at first marriage continues to rise among the unchurched, large numbers of conservative Christians continue to wed in their early twenties.
For many, that means forming their first truly adult friendships after marriage, or for single Christians, with opposite-sex friends who are already hitched.
As Noah Berlatsky pointed out recently, the "tradition of marriage encompasses a good deal more variation" than many of its most conservative defenders like to admit.
Same-sex weddings, as the Bold Boundaries conferees made clear, aren't the only controversial innovation to impact an ever-evolving institution.
Organized by evangelical Christians but featuring speakers and participants from many other backgrounds, Bold Boundaries challenged the assumption that Packard and many others make: that cross-sex friendships are always charged with sexual tension and danger.
Men and women can be friends, every presenter at the conference argued, and not just with their spouses.
For affluent couples, however, the "right thing" would be to pair the husband from one couple with the wife from another in order to enable flirtation and a frisson of erotic excitement.