There are so many social minefields these days, and endless faux pas just waiting to happen, it is surprising we bother going out at all, or ever communicate with anyone. If it weren't for our thick skins and ability to recover from public mortification, we'd be better off living all alone, rocking back and forth in our world where nothing ever really happens, but we are all safe.
Few things are as mind-numbingly political, stupid and awkward than the simple 'x'. Not the one that marks the spot on a treasure map, or the one that ends the words box and fox, but the little mark of appreciation you put at the end of a text or an email to denote a kiss.
Whether it's a friendly peck, a dramatic European cheek-grazing quartet or full-on Frenchie with tongues ahoy is never really clear, and depends on who's doing the x-ing.
There aren't really any right or wrong ways to do it. What one person sees as a perfectly acceptable stream of xxxxxx to signify "nice to talk to you", another views it as a marriage proposal and is looking at 'venues' before you can blink.
All you can do is to decide on your own set of rules and pray everyone you meet is on the same wavelength, - or at least understands why you do what you do. Here are mine.
The capital X
Oh, this is a no. Definitely not. Closing a text with a capital X for a kiss doesn't say you really care - it is just a default. If you end your texts with full stops - and you really, really should - then most phones will cap that baby right back up.
And defaults are rarely sexy or deep in meaning - they come into play when nothing else happens, a fall-back. If you don't take the time to change case when typing your x, or beginning to type a slew of the blighters if you're feeing super-frisky, you just don't care.
You've done it without thinking. The X kiss is a nothing, a natural function. It's a fart at the end of the text. And don't get me started on tall X out with his kids for a walk - the Xxxx - that's just awful. You're just pressing keys on the bus until it's your stop.
How many kisses should you put on a text?
So now we've established the kisses have to be in lowercase - nobody wants a shouty, default kiss. But the number you place at the end of your missive is another minefield.
How affectionate are you feeling today? What does it say if you send two one day and just the one the next? Do you love or like them less?
My tip: pick a number for a person and stick to it. My boyfriend gets one. My mother gets two. Three for my sister and most female friends - for some reason a trio of text snogs tends to be the number they start off with, especially if you're a gay.
Outbursts of affection may see this increase every now and again, but I never fall below the lower limit - and it's a good idea to start as low as you dare. If you need more, and sometimes you do, you need somewhere to go. Do this xxxxxxxxxxxx straight off and it loses all meaning.
Another good tip is to mirror whoever is texting you, unless it's someone who works in PR and you don't know them - they tend to be very liberal with their x-ing.
Who gets the x?
Leave them off work emails unless whoever is emailing you does it repeatedly and it would be very awkward if you didn't. A survey a couple of years ago suggested that the innocent old x on the end of an email was a huge factor in starting an office affair, but I wouldn't read too much into Valerie from Accounts' friendly 'xx' when she asks you to clear your items out of the work fridge, if I were you.
Someone you have not been on a date with yet: no, best not. Because we all have these mental ideas about what is and what isn't appropriate, just leave it until you have actually met and the date has gone well. And then wait for them to do it first.
If you're dumping somebody by text, probably best to leave it at one. They don't come in halves, really, unless you do a > or a < - and that's cruel.
A few common pitfalls:
The hanging x
The most painful x minefield of all - you sent one but didn't get one back. How do you reclaim your pride? Do you miss out the x on your next text?
What if they left it off by mistake? Maybe you should try again, right? In all honesty: I've no idea. Just try not to get too worked up about it and over-compensate.
What's even more confusing is when historically you have been having a non-x conversation and suddenly there it is: an x, maybe two, on the end of the incoming message. You respond, only to find the next text is missing its closing smooch. I mean, it's like nobody wants us to have good mental health, isn't it? We can't win.
Oh how many times have I done this? Jabbed with my sausage fingers - carefully going into lowercase - only to press send before I realise that x is actually a c and now I look stupid, with doughy digits to boot.
I have a friend called Catherine who dreads this the most - she's worried anyone reading the text will think a) she's signing off with her initial and NOT a kiss and b) she's too dim or 'cutesy' to bother spelling her name with a capital C.
This is supposed to be xxx, right? But some phones assume you're bound to be tired after all that frantic tapping and correct you to a virtual snooze.
It's almost always followed up by another text explaining you weren't calling the other person boring, but simply can't be trusted with a keyboard smaller than the Hadron Collider.
Good luck. x
Sorry, I mean: xxx
Bit familiar. Maybe xx. Hmm, no, that's for mum.
Let's just agree to leave it at none and say more about it. c