When I was in elementary school, I was taught how to write a letter: “Dear Grandma, Thank you for the present. Love, Beth.” It was not until high school that we were taught the alternate closing of “Sincerely,” for letters that were in some way official. So “Love” it was, for as long as I still set pen to paper. Then along came email, then texts, and then Facebook, and correspondence suddenly was a brave new world. One of my biggest challenges in this era of electronic communication is the sign-off. For many years I signed my emails, “Love, Beth,” as I have always signed my handwritten letters and cards. Then I moved to England. In England, the popular sign-off among women is some combination of x’s and o’s. This seems to vary depending on the amount of feeling being transmitted. I have one friend who I don’t correspond with often who usually signs off with “Julia x.” But not long ago, after not having heard from her for some time, she sent me an email and signed off, “Julia XX.” Not just two, but capital Xs at that. This was quite shocking to me. Had I suddenly moved far up the ranks of friendship?
To make matters worse, I am somewhat literal, so whenever people sign off in this way I tend to think of actual kisses. It was not until my first professional job, in my early 30s, that I finally learned how to do the double cheek kiss. A good friend who had years of experience was kind enough to show me exactly how to do it one day after I confessed that, having grown up in Vermont, I always felt a frisson of terror when I realized a double-cheeked kiss was expected. The terror came from having bungled it at least once with results that required an embarrassed apology and resulted in an intense blush. I had gotten the basic hug downpat from living in Sweden, although I had needed to learn how to do that as well, but the kiss always did flummox me and continues to do so. So signing off with x’s and o’s has always been a bit of a stretch for me. Then there’s the issue of emails to males– do you still sign off with x’s and o’s as a married woman who has no plans to kiss anyone but her husband? Two men I know have bypassed this problem by signing off with their names, plain and simple. But for me that just doesn’t feel complete. Too many years of “Love, Beth” make just “Beth” seem nearly rude.
The same literal-mindedness that makes the x’s and o’s less than ideal for me has also affected the “Love.” Having noticed that I am now in the clear minority that signs off this way, I have begun to question the appropriateness of using “Love” when I may or may not really love the person I am emailing. Do I love the person that I see only intermittently? Even if I do love them, are they going to feel the same way I do about x’s and o’s when they read “Love, Beth,” if they are quite sure that they really just like me? Where does liking stop and love start anyway?
I have tried to get around this problem by using “Take care.” I have used that as my alternate sign-off for several years in cases where “Love” did not feel quite right. But “Take care” has its issues as well. Granted I am a dyed-in-the-wool big sister sort, but it does seem over the top to tell my email correspondents to take care. Of course they’re going to take care, and they don’t really need to be reminded. Furthermore “take care” seems too impersonal to use with good friends.
The Facebook message system is even more of a minefield, as there people often don’t sign off at all. This to me feels just wrong. That would be like having a phone call where the other person didn’t say goodbye before hanging up. Facebook message conversations are left there, floating, until the other person decides to continue the dialogue. As someone whose to-do list is much longer than it should be, this is disturbing, because it means that yet another thing is somehow unfinished. Instant messaging is similar. In a throwback to CB radio I have tried to solve that problem by using “over and out.” I always did want a CB radio, so I’m glad I get to use the lingo, but it’s a bit drastic.
I received an email from a woman I am quite fond of but don’t know very well the other day, and she signed off “Love, Tara.” It was so refreshing. When I replied, I could write “Love, Beth” without a second thought. After all, when you get right down to it, why not love? When I’m feeling uninhibited, I reason that this world could use all the extra love it can get. But if I want to blend, I’ll opt for the x.