Tell Me About It
Friday, August 25, 2006; 1:00 PM
Today's show will begin at 1 p.m. ET.
Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.
Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.
Re: nothing to say to each other: Do you have anything to say to anyone else? What would happen if you said it to each other?
Carolyn Hax: It's a great experiment, if nothing else. Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: Almost forgot--thanks everyone for rolling with the time change. We had a minor child-care crisis.
As crises go, there is one far more major that I need to report: The cable guy stood us up and I couldn't get to a hotspot (see above), so Im in the dial-up Dark Ages today. Be kind. Thanks.
Dulles, Va.: Why does it seem that there is always some minor argument a day or so before me or my SO go out of town? It must be me, because it's happened with several relationships.
Carolyn Hax: Does the travel (or the prep for it) stress you out?
Re: nothing to say to each other: It doesn't seem like they can't find the first comment to make to each other but I imagine they (or at least one person in the relationship) is not getting enough of a response back to continue the conversation.
Carolyn Hax: That is probably it, I agree, but confirmation can go a long way in these situations. Thanks.
A Toaster Poem: In honor of today's column, a toaster haiku:
unplugged, crumbless, useless gift
next time give money
Carolyn Hax: Crumbless. How devastating, if you're a toaster.
Davis: Carolyn, I love your advice normally but the response to today's letter from the bored spouse was not very Haxish. What about the question asking if it is just the marriage that has sunk into boredom, or is the spouse just bored with her life in general? If the later, maybe the couple are in a rut, and time to try some new activities before calling it quits.
Carolyn Hax: I took it to be an unmarried couple--s/he said "painful, lonely breakup," not "painful, lonely divorce." And if a couple not yet married is already feeling suffoceted, I don't think any version of me would suggest breaking out the paddles to revive that one.
Carolyn Hax: Ta da! That's one connection drop. I'll try to make up for it. Sorry.
Washington, D.C.: As newlyweds, my husband and I were afraid we wouldn't have anything to talk about - after spending the past year with incessant wedding planning talk/argument/stress. Happily, we have no trouble talking about any number of things. I can't imagine being with someone with whom I couldn't carry on a conversation. That's just a bad date. A lifelong bad date.
FWIW, sometimes we talk about how much we hate geraniums.
Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Why is it people always have a list when they are seeking someone, but actually only looking for someone that looks attractive? Find this to be so prevalent in our socity today. Why not just say that and be honest?
Carolyn Hax: A lot of people try to and get slapped for it. Rightly, too, since it's so ... so ... so "I deserve only the best-looking people." Bleah.
While they're at it, they should chuck the lists, too. Looking for looks and looking for pre-selected traits are both fast tracks to the kind of relationship where you wake up one day to the fact you have nothing to say to each other.
Look for people whose company you enjoy. Work from there. Bonus, you can admit it without getting slapped.
Unless you want to get slapped, of course. Then it's not a bonus.
Meet the Parents: Carolyn,
My boyfriend and I are nervously anticipating the first meeting between his parents and my dad and stepmother. We will all be having dinner together in the near future and the closer it gets, the more we both dread it. These two couples could not have less in common! They are sure to dislike eachother, but even more importantly for the purpose of getting through dinner, they are not going to have anything to say to one another.
There will also be the issue of the bill at the end of the night. We figured we would pay to avoid the fight between our dads, but I think that may just be adding another party to the fight. Any suggestions on how to get through this and make it a somewhat enjoyable night?
Oh, and if it matters, my dad and stepmother LOVE him and his parents seem to like me okay but also seem to have trouble accepting that their youngest child and only son is in a serious relationship.
Carolyn Hax: 1. Pick a place you'll feel comfortable. Have it at home and catered if that's the easiest; the more tense you are the worse it'll seem.
2. You pay. If you go to a restaurant, make advance arrangements to pay so no bill ever arrives. Just sign and smile.
3. Stop assuming. Their being different doesn't guarantee they'll hate each other. The "other party to the fight" that I see coming is your (and your BF's) expectations of how the night will go. Be pleasant, be pliable, be unflappable. Because:
4. You're caring too much. It really helps if you like his parents, and it really helps if he likes yours, but it really just doesn't matter if his parents like your parents. It just doesn't.
Washington, D.C.: I'm hopeless at dating. I can't tell whether I am too picky or just don't give guys enough of a chance. I've had a few first dates in the past year, and most of the time I really don't care if I see the guy again or not. They may be nice, perfectly normal guys, but if I'm not attracted to them, I write them off pretty quick. The most recent is a nice guy, but we don't have a lot in common (interests, politics, etc.), and the first date was kind of blah. But my friend, who set us up, advised me to give him another chance because he's, in her opinion, a "great catch" and reportedly likes me a lot. But I feel like I'd be leading him on by going on a second date with him.
Usually the guys I fall for are ones that I've been friends, or at least acquaintances with, beforehand. I have a hard time jumping into dating and intimacy if there was nothing to build on. But other people seem to do it just fine. Any suggestions? Stick out a few dates to see if I change my mind or bail when the urge hits?
Carolyn Hax: The guys you've fallen for, the ones you first befriended or, um, bequainted (if it's not a word, it should be): Do you remember how you felt about them at first? Were things "kind of blah" or was there some fun there right away? I'm not going to choose for you, more dates or drop, because I suspect you already have enough info to make your own decision; you just need to dig for it a little.
FWIW, I don't think one more date would be leading anyone on.
Dating Vs. Married: As a soon-to-be newlywed, I'm curious about the difference in advice for dating couples versus married couples. We have been dating for more than five years, living together for four. Certainly there have been times when we didn't have anything to say to each other. But we realize that in the five years we've been together we have already gone through different phases in our relationship - both highs and lows. So why is the advice to a dating couple to break up but the advice to a married couple is to see if it can be worked out?
FYI - when we felt like neither of us had much to say to the other, we realized (after much silence) that we both had a lot of work issues on our minds that we didn't want to "burden" the other person with. Once we admitted that it is so much nicer to go ahead and burden each other with our respective problems (because !surprise! we actually offer each other the needed support) we realized how silly we had been with our silence. And we're not even married yet.
Carolyn Hax: Married vs. unmarried (or I should say life-committed vs. un-) does make a difference, since you've made a promise. Obviously I think that promise can be broken, but only after a whole-hearted effort to make it work.
A member of a not-yet-committed couple can say, much sooner, "I don't want to work this hard." And that's a healthy epiphany to have, I think.
As for your example, it sounds like you have periodic lulls, not a chronic failure to click. Apples and oranges, I think.
Boredville, USA: I am temporarily out of work right now (will start a new job next month). I am so bored and starting to become depressed. I believe the time off has given me time to reflect on my life, which involves few friends in the area (I just moved to a new city, which is really small) and no significant other. Is it unhealthy to lose oneself in work when you are unhappy with other parts of your life?
Carolyn Hax: Not necessarily. The point is just to be fulfilled, not to be fulfilled in the ways society thinks we're supposed to be fulfilled.
That said, if what you're seeing now is that immersing yourself in work has left you unfulfilled, then, yes, that would be unhealthy -for you- (again, the only measure that matters). I just don't necessarily believe your current boredom -has- to mean you're overcommitted to work. It could just mean you aren't doing enough during your layoff. So do more.
Yes, I do get paid for this.
Re: Washington D.C.: "He reportedly likes me a lot"...ummm...how does he know he likes her a lot after one date. She seems a little conceited - poor guy she might "allow" to take her a second time.
Carolyn Hax: Come on, the friend said it, quite realistically after he told this friend, "Yeah, I'd see her again, I liked her a lot." Hardly so much of a stretch that we need to shoot spitballs at her.
RE: Meet the rents....: Come up with three or four different "safe" topics beforehand, so there will at least be something either the girlfriend or boyfriend can offer when the lull sets in.
Carolyn Hax: "You guys are born to despise each other. Discuss."
Re: Picky Dater: I know she doesn't say it, but maybe she's a lesbian. I never clicked with a guy for eight years, and then I figured out why. A big twist on the "it's not you, it's me" thing.
And by the way, I bring this up because if I recruit one more, I win a toaster!
Carolyn Hax: Ooh. I hope it's one of those overpriced English ones.
Kind of Blah: That was definitely me! I'd go out on dates and, although the guy was perfectly fine, I had no inclination/desire/whatever to go out again...Just too much effort on my part I guess. The handful of guys that I dated long term were always a friend or close acquaintance first. And I was never attracted to them at first - they just "grew" on me. The guy I married went to college with me and, through mutual friends, we remained in contact after college. Now, 8 years later, we just got married. However if someone had told me five years ago that I'd marry him, I'd have said they were on crack. So...long story short, go on second dates. You may become friends and 8 years later maybe you'll find out that he's the one for you. Or maybe you'll have gained a really great friend.
Carolyn Hax: But where's the toaster in that?
Rockville, Md.: Carolyn, you rock.
Ok, I've been seeing someone for a few weeks, and I'm really enjoying getting to know him -- but it hasn't gotten physical yet. However, I know that at this point, I would be embarrassed to introduce him to friends/family/colleagues, and I'm not sure whether or not I'm actually attracted to him. Do I tell him this? Stop getting to know him? Get over myself? Please help!!
Carolyn Hax: Thank you.
I'm going to pick no. 3--get over self.
Washington, D.C.: I am afraid of mice. It drives me crazy that I have this irrational fear of totally non-threatening things. It particularly drives me crazy because I'm a woman, and I hate fitting into gender stereotypes in such a dumb way. And yet, when I see one of those little furry bodies in the kitchen, I am compelled to run away screaming. How can I change this?
Carolyn Hax: The way to avoid gender stereotypes is not to learn to trap, skin and cook mice (kebabs, I'd think). It's to be yourself without regard to expectations and stupid stereotypes. So, scream and flap away.
Under My Desk, Va.: RE: Parents will hate each other
Just wanted to second your comment that it doesn't matter if the parents like each other. My parents (seriously Catholic) and my wife's Mother (divorced mother, ex-hippie) hate each other. Will not be in the same room. But, we're going on our 9th anniversary next month, and this has mattered exactly once -- prior to the wedding, at the dinner where they met. They managed to not interact at the wedding (they are, after all, adults), and after that, it has never mattered.
Hope that helps.
Carolyn Hax: It does, and it's a good story, but my PC meter is whirling and I need to point out that married Catholics, even serious ones, can get along with divorced ex-hippies. These three just happen not to.
Those comically Catholics, now, dont' get me started.
Virginia: Hope you're having fun with that dial up connection today!
I know you've probably answered this before, but what is the difference between a professional counselor and a therapist?
I've been feeling very "blah", not sad really, for at least the past year, moreso the last 6 months (after quitting smoking). I have to force myself some days to do the simple things in life like take a shower, feed the cats, make dinner. Other days aren't as bad. I can still laugh at my husband's jokes so I'm not completely emotionless. I have a wonderful marriage but it's hard for me to talk with someone that isn't objective. I really feel like I need to talk with someone who will not be judgemental or say things like "if it were me, I'd do such and such..."
Would this type of thing be something a counselor would be better suited for?
Thank you so much. Love the column and chats and have been a fan from the beginning!
Carolyn Hax: Thank you! And, really, what's more fun than a week without cable culminating in a massive technical setback.
Therapists are professional counselors. I think what you're asking is the distinction between various types of therapists--psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers. If you just want to talk, I'd go with an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker). If you're struggling with a serious, diagnosable mental illness or if you (or others) suspect you have one, or if your dysfunction is severe and longstandng, go the the MD, the psychiatrist. And psychologists are well-suited to the borad range in between.
That, by the way, is a massive and potentially offensive generalization. There are LCSWs who can take on anything, and psychiatrists who can take you nowhere--of course, because they're all just people, and therefore of widely divergeant levels of talent, skill, empathy, etc., independent of education level.
Short answer: Ask your regular doctor. Explain how you feel and ask for a referral. Or, if you know of a good therapist of any stripe, start there and see how it goes.
While I agree that a list of age, eye/hair color, height, etc. is not a great idea when considering a date, I don't think that it's necessarily a bad idea to know yourself well enough to know what's a deal breaker.
I do have a list, it consists of kind, open-minded, and non-judgemental. I know myself well enough to know that I could never be happy with someone who didn't have those traits. I can't stand bullies; I've had to deal with too many of them in my life.
Where I also have a list of "nice to have" traits, like humor, intelligence, and similar political views, they aren't carved in stone.
Carolyn Hax: Idunno, I don't even see "no bullies" as a list. I'm talking, "high income, college educated, athletic, tall" stuff.
re: picky dater: I was in a similar situation as this woman for years. I always had a hard time wanting to go out on a second date for years. I finally decided that if the person passed a minimum threshold of being ok - I would force myself to go out on the second date. Oftentimes on the second date the person is relaxed and you can get a better idea of their personality. I think I was always afraid of hurting the other person or myself by leading them on -- but its dating, you get to have as many dates as you want (within reason) to figure it out. I also think I liked my friends more because they were safer - either they knew me and decided they had a romantic interest in me, or they knew me and were off limits --- it was much easier than opening up to someone where the whole purpose is to see if there is the possibility of a relationship and if not you have to end the relationship.
Carolyn Hax: Well argued, thanks. I would add that these as-many-as-you-want forced dates (and any other dates) should be accompanied by shared responsibility for the tab.
Washington, D.C.: Acquaintances eloped. Now they're having a party. They registered with the date of the party as their wedding date. Gift or nice thoughtful card?
Carolyn Hax: Whatever you feel is appropriate. A registry is merely to assist those who want to buy gifts and don't want the couple to unwrap 40 toasters. It is not a marching order, and it's not even rude in this case, unless you were given the information in the invitation.
MIL: Mother in law is arriving in 4 hours. HELP!
(last time she was here, she got drunk and told me about losing her virginity!)
Carolyn Hax: Could be worse. She could get drunk and tell the story of your losing your virginity.
Standards are Different than Lists: I think the thing to avoid is resume dating - no one said you had to go out with bullies, or racists, or people who cut in front of you in traffic.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I know a few people who missed that particular bulletin.
Georgia: Asking your regular doc about a therapist is not always a good idea. A couple of years ago my mother died and some other stuff happened and I told my doc at my regular "well woman: check up. He said everybody's mother dies. You get over it. He said similar things about the other two items that were bothering me.
Carolyn Hax: I hope you got yourself a new regular doctor.
His mother liked me...: So why do I feel like this is the kiss of death?
His mom hasn't liked the women he's brought home in the past -but then he hasn't had great things to say about most of them to me, either. He says I'm entirely different from those women, and how much happier he is with me ("I didn't know it could be like this" kinds of comments.) Well, I met his mom and he reports that she did like me. Why not, I'm a likable person?
His mom's a mess, however, and certainly lived up to the stories I'd heard. Treated us all like we were 8 years old and needed a lot of minding. (ouch.)
So somehow I'm left feeling like her approval is the kiss of death - even tho the rest of the family seems to like me just fine.
So am I looking at red flags or just giving too much credit to his family drama queen?
Carolyn Hax: This will probably be too quick an answer, but it jumped out at me so I'll trust it and post any regrets later:
The mother wouldn't be a red flag on her own. Mother-son together would make the red flag. Is he hanging on his mom's opinion? Is he excited about you only because you're not like his mom?
Not that you should make any snap judgments yourself, just that you should take your unease seriously and pay attention.
Besides, it doesn't sound like her approval is a fixed quantity, by any stretch.
Re: forced second dates: In my own life, whenever I've forced myself to go to some social thing I didn't really feel like going to, whether a second date or a party or a family reunion, I always end up wishing I'd gone with my instincts and stayed at home.
Obviously forcing yourself to go works for some people, but it doesn't work for everyone. Maybe before deciding whether they should force themselves to go, people should ask themselves how frequently they end up enjoying something they've forced themselves to go to?
Carolyn Hax: Great point, thanks.
For Virginian feeling blah: Does your job have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)? That's a great way to help figure out who you should talk to. You go to an EAP counselor for a few visits and based on that, the counselor provides recommendations. Could be LCSWs, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, etc.
Carolyn Hax: I haven't mentioned them lately, thanks.
Trendy House: Carolyn,
What can I say? A friend of my close friends (who I would consider an acquaintance) is buying a place in a very trendy (and pricy) new neighborhood with a VHDA loan and publicizing that fact. I think it's ethically wrong -- these loans are people who would otherwise not be able to purchase a place. She's been living with her parents for a while, has a decent job, and tons of trendy clothes and bags. I know I'm not the money police, but she has such a snobby attitude to begin with. Do I just let it go or can I say something snarky? Any ideas??
Carolyn Hax: Eh. Just let it go and be glad you aren't closer friends. You're under no obligation to take on every doink you meet.
Re: Nothing to say to each other: Why do people have to have something to say to each other all of the time? I have more to talk about with my husband than anyone else, but sometimes we also both enjoy companionable silence (which is generally less comfortable with other people).
Carolyn Hax: Saying nothing is different from having nothing to say. What can I say.
For Virginia: Get yourself checked out by a doctor-- preferably ask for a referral to an endocrinologist. Many smokers develop hypothyroidism from smoking that they only really feel when they withdraw from smoking. Your being able to laugh but having no energy for anything sounds like a classic hypothyroidism flag, although there are other symptoms. It also does tend to coexist with depression. Been there, had the achy exhaustion blues.
Carolyn Hax: Can't vouch for any of this except the, "Get yourself checked out by a doctor," which should always be the first step for people who aren't feeling like themselves. Thanks.
The District: What's more important when you're young: career building or broadening my horizons (by that I mean moving across the country to a new town to meet new friends and experience a new way of life). Would changing careers hurt me later on?
Carolyn Hax: Do what you want. That's what's most important.
Working Stiff in Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,
I am considering changing jobs but am not sure if I should be. My current position/company has a its ups - good money, potential for $$$, relaxed culture, and of course its downs -- understaffed, stressful. The work is not terribly interesting but it does vary significantly from project to project.
My question, what should I ask myself to determine whether I am simply in a rut and need a vacation or it is time to move on?
Carolyn Hax: Take a vacation.
Washington, D.C. friends: For 10 years, I was close friends with a girl (I'm female) who moved across the country and hasn't spoken to me since she moved about 18 months ago. We went to college together and then moved to the same city. We spoke almost everyday and often went out together. She hasn't returned any of my calls or e-mails since she moved and I have no idea why. I can't think of anything I did that would have caused the silence. I hear about her through mutual friends and she seems to be doing okay. I have a feeling that she's done with me for whatever reason, and it hurts but it also makes me angry. How can I make peace with this?
Carolyn Hax: I wish I had an answer for you. It's why the silent treatment is so horrible--it flatly denies people peace. All you can do is remind yourself that this friend wasn't one after all, not really, not if she could do this to you--and certainly isn't someone to whom you'd want to be close again, now that you've seen this side of her. It's rationalized peace, not actual, but it's something.
my boyfriend is in Iraq. He worries about losing me to someone else (I'm in school so he's thinking classmates I see everyday). I told him he can worry the rest of his life, whether he's in Iraq or right next to me, about me meeting someone else or he can trust that he's what I want and not let worry eat him up. Am I on the right track or should I say something else? This comes up every now and then so wanted your opinion.
Carolyn Hax: I think that's a great reply. Hope he's okay.
Wilmington, N.C.: How do I know if what I've got going on with a guy is just "friends with fringe benefits" or something that could be a relationship? We've known each other for a few years, and usually just hung out at the pub after work or went to the beach together. I always thought he might be interested in me, but I wasn't ready for anything...needed time for myself after breaking up with my last boyfriend. In the last few months, after I realized I was done with me-time, I've started to develop feelings for him, and stayed the night at his house a few times. But we don't talk on the phone and just chat, or go out more often than we used to. I'm too chicken to ask "what's going on." Do I just wait and see what happens? Or if a relationship was going to happen, should more be going on by now than just hanging out and sleeping together occasionally...and I'm just a friend he takes home sometimes?
Carolyn Hax: You'll have sex with someone, but you're "too chicken" to talk? Take better care of yourself, please. Figure out what you want and why, and then articulate it, and then accept the consequences.
Chicago, Ill.: a word of wisdom from my psychiatrist (originally to me in session). After I'd had a crying crisis and met him in his office, we talked through it and I calmed down. Then I apologized for having such irrational thoughts that caused the meltdown. His comment was "it's what I do. Although your perceptions are unfounded, the pain in real and I can help you deal with the pain." Too bad he retired, eh?
Carolyn Hax: Indeed. But surely there are others. Thanks.
Fighting before a trip: This is fairly common in families, at holiday dinners, for example. It's hard to separate from people one loves; much easier to separate if upset or angry with them. So arguments break out just before the time comes to separate.
I see this in my child, too, before he goes to spend a few days with his dad. He has an easier time separating from me if he's mad at me, so he gets mad at me!
Carolyn Hax: I never thought of that, thanks. It makes so much sense.
Bethesda, Md.: My husband and I are traveling home this weekend to tell my parents that we're expecting our first child (and their first grandchild). We are very excited about this and I know that my parents will be ecstatic... so why am I so nervous? Any words of advice?
Carolyn Hax: You're nervous because you're making a huge production out of it, and my advice would be not to make a huge production out of it.
But that's such a wet blanket. Sorry. How about this: Be nervous, make your big announcement, be ecstatic, and then realize this is not an event but life itself (not in the pro-life way, but in the day-to-day-to-day way), over which you ultimately exert little control, and therefore emotionally, you will spike and plummet accordingly.
VHDA Doink: Guess I'm confused. Poster made it sound like she was defrauding someone. If she qualifies as to income-circumstances, regardless of what else she wastes her money on, I'm not sure what the issue is. Is poster implying she's lying about income or ...?
Carolyn Hax: I just saw it as someone bragging about a gov't assist while wearing Prada. Which might not sit right with me, either.
Carolyn Hax: Though I still wouldn't be even remotely inclined to call someone on it. Just an eye roll and a whatever.
And maybe a margarita. This being Friday and all.
Seattle, Wash.: Carolyn,
Need advice quick! Had this MAJOR blow-up with my mother-in-law. Now trying to patch things up, but she refuses to even act as if anything has even happened. Spoke to my husband about the feelings of discomfort I now have around her and his advice is that she will eventually come around. I want to believe it, but I can tell some of the things I said (while true) hurt and now I can't undo it. What do I do now??
Carolyn Hax: What can you do? She won't let you talk about it. So, you show your regret instead of speaking it, and you give it time.
Fairfax, Va.: Dear Carolyn,
Online only please. This seems like an old and common situation, but I still feel stuck and confused. I've been in a relationship for a few years with a great woman who wants to get married. I don't want to get married right now, because I feel like we still have a few issues to work through. For example even though we usually have a great time together, we also argue and fight often. I've tried telling her this, but she feels that I'm just scared to get married, using the fights as excuses, and anyway she doesn't think that we argue often at all. Is it unfair to think that we could work things out before getting married? Am I being selfish by staying with her when she wants to get married right now and I don't? Thanks for the advice.
Carolyn Hax: Two enormously important things: You are unhappy with the number of arguments you have, and she is dismissing your feelings without fully considering them. Either of these alone is reason enough to postpone a decision on marriage.
You aren't being selfish by staying, necessarily, but I do think you owe it to her, and to yourself, to make sure you're actively doing something to satisfy your doubts--one way or the other--vs just waiting for something to change. For example, you can go to counseling; or you can pay close attention to your arguments in order to spot and address the triggers; or you can say clearly that you need her to respect your reservations and not dismiss them as wedophobia.
Whichever route you choose, absolutely do follow it till you achieve some sort of resolution. You can't marry this kind of unease away.
Carolyn Hax: Okay, I'm going to put this one out of its misery, before I start slapping my laptop. (Which sounds inappropriate for a family chat, somehow.) Thanks for putting up with it and me, have a great weekend.
The mother liked her ...: " it doesn't sound like her approval is a fixed quantity, by any stretch."
Here's another red flag for that relationship: it doesn't sound like HIS approval is a fixed quantity, either. He has bad things to say about EVERY OTHER woman he ever dated, but now THIS GAL is different?
Until she starts disappointing him, and then she'll be like all the rest.
Carolyn Hax: Agh, I missed that. Nice catch, thanks.
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