Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007 12:30 PM
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 an ex-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.
Carolyn Hax: Hi guys. I made it here sooner than I expected so I'm going ahead.
Chicago, Ill.: Last weekend, my sister brought her new fiancee home to meet the folks. As both sister and fiancee live some hours away, this is the first time that the family has had a chance to meet him. Everyone likes him, sister is happy, fiancee treats her wonderfully, and they seem to be very much in love.
The complication consists of the fact that I dated this same guy a couple of years ago when I was living and going to school in the same town. We were hot and heavy for about six months until I graduated and moved away. I know he recognized me, but never said anything.
Oh, the other complication I'm a guy.
Do I tell my sister, confront her fiancee, keep my mouth shut, see if I can trade this family in for the Waltons .
Carolyn Hax: I'm sure the Waltons were up to all kinds of stuff to which America the Willfully Ignorant was not privy.
You tell your sister immediately. If you can find the few hours, deliver your news in person. And if you can't find the few hours, find them anyway and deliver the news in person. Not only should this conversation be given that level of weight and sensitivity, but the trip will also give you a little extra time to plead with the cosmos to arrange for this guy to have an identical twin. Good luck.
Washington, D.C.: My girlfriend and I have been together for a little over five years. We're now separating but still living together because we jointly own a condo. I would like to keep the property while she would like to sell it. Since I paid 100 percent of the down payment I believe it is reasonable for me to keep the place as long as I reasonably compensate her for the invements throughout the last 3-1/2 years of homeownership.
There are still lots of details to be worked out over the next few months. However, she refuses to engage and just want to go straight to a lawyer. I think the only thing a lawyer will bring will the added expense. I would rather talk like adults and resolve the issues in principle, and then go to a lawyer to let the legal expert help us put our agreement in writing.
Do you have any suggestions for how I should handle this situation? Is my assumption about hiring a lawyer from the beginning correct or incorrect?
Carolyn Hax: If she refuses to engage, then my opinion of your opinion isn't going to help much.
I do think, though, that before you go into any discussion of the issues, with or without lawyer, you need to realize she probably stands to gain more by selling the place than by letting you take it in exchange for compensating her for the money she invested. Sell, and you'd both be splitting any market gains--prorated, I'd imagine, by the percentages of your investments. So if you really want to stay put, you can't cheap her out of her profits.
In fact, you might get her to engage if you make it clear you plan to offer her what would have been her percentage of the market gains over the past 3.5 years. To figure that out, I'd get a few good agents in to give you their opinions of the condo's value, and maybe agree to take the average.
Or you could just pay a lawyer for an hour's worth of advice. It won't break you.
College Park, Md.: Hi, Carolyn.
I was looking over Wednesday's column and I was struck by something the mastectomy survivor mentioned -- she talked about her husband e-mailing another woman about beauty. I doubt it changes the overall advice, but it suggests that either someone is incredibly thougtless to mention it (and possibly beyond help for obliviousness) or the wife was snooping.
Carolyn Hax: Yes. Or the email was intended for someone else but he sent it to her by mistake. I didn't even bring it up because there were too many possibilities, too few certainties. But it's nice to have it out there that tipping off the wife in this case would be thoughtless or oblivious (or officious) beyond repair. Thanks.
Anywhere, USA: What's the best way to turn down relatives (adult in-laws in their '40s and '50s) who ask for a "loan" you're fairly sure they'll never pay back? We're tired of being viewed as the Family Bank and Trust because we have stable jobs and have savings socked away.
Carolyn Hax:"I'm sorry, we're not in a position to give you a loan."
You don't have to elaborate that your current position is one of not being a complete idiot.
The one caveat is this will expose you to accusations of crying poor when you clearly have plenty of money, but, as you said, your having plenty of money is a result of saving, planning, and not lending money to relatives who won't pay it back. I.e., you're not rolling in it; your position of financial strength demands constant good judgment and upkeep. So you;re not in a position to make this requested loan.
Also known as, "If I lent money to you, I'd have to lend it to everyone, and I don't have enough to lend to everyone." But if you're actually explaining this to them, then you;re probably taking on water. In fact, the real answer here is, "No." I'm just offering other verbiage b/c I know how a one-syllable answer can just hang there sometimes.
Virginia, not northern: Dear Carolyn,
Online only thanks.
I've been reading your column for about a year since I separated from my husband. I found your online archives and have been devouring them.
I was depressed for a long time and then met a male friend (nothing physical, just affectionate conversation), and this woke me up to awareness of extreme emotional and sexual neglect within my marriage. (sex only when I asked to have children). I never had the confidence prior to admit to myself or anyone else what was going on.
I am wondering if others who suffer from depression, especially women, could be experiencing emotional abuse or neglect from their intimate partners, without being aware that this is the cause (of depression). Also, sometimes people have written in to you about sexless relationships, and what I have learned is that this is a form of control. What say you?
Leaving affectionless marriage
Carolyn Hax: I agree, except for the "especially women." Thanks for bringing it up (and congratulations on finding your strength).
River City: Snooping or not, what the husband did was wrong; how the wife found out about it doens't negate his responsibility for his misactions.
Carolyn Hax: zackly. Thanks.
Fairfax, Va.: Carolyn,
When I discovered that my estranged husband was using his key to come into the house when I was gone, and go through my drawers, and the mail, and such, the first thing anyone said to me was "You don't have anything to hide, do you?" So much for MY privacy. I think it's neat that if the woman does that, she's "snooping."
Carolyn Hax: The first anyone you saw was an idiot. Or fearful for your safety, and you misread the intent. Either way I don't think there's anything larger to read into this except to change your locks, call your attorney and report this to the police.
Adult In-Laws and Loans: Is some discussion with your spouse in order here? I mean, does the answer change if the spouse wants to loan the parents money? Or is that a whole 'nother kettle of fish?
Carolyn Hax: I just assumed neither wanted to loan the money ("WE're just tired ..."), and it just happened to be the S/DIL who chose to write into this forum.
But if one wants to lend and the other doesn't, then, yes, whole new answer. The two would have to come to some agreement/compromise before even a nickel changed hands.
Re: Cancer survivor: Actually, I assumed that the person who wrote to you was the recipient of the e-mail, and knew the couple's situation, and was therefore appropriately upset by the husband's action.
Carolyn Hax: It was signed, "The Wife." So I think it was the wife.
Sex as Control:...not always. A few years back I stopped having sex with my girlfriend and did not know why. I was fine physically, but due to massive amounts of stress from job and law school at night I couldn't bring myself to be emotionally there. Turns out I was pretty depressed and got the necessary help. I think it is sometimes easy to say "oh he/she was controlling" when in reality there was another issue, such as depression.
Carolyn Hax: True. But if you refuse even to look into the possibility there's another issue, then we're back to some form of controlling, or at least some pretty steep selfishness. That you were willing to acknowledge your illness and get the necessary help means you weren't making a conscious choice to deny your mate something important, which means, you're right, it wasn't about control.
Since hedging is so much fun: Depression does sit right on that line, since selfishness/a diminished ability to recognize others' feelings and a reluctance to deal with problems can themselves be part of the illness. Which is why it can be so tough on the mates of people who suffer it.
Did I miss anything?
Bethesda, Md.: Still mulling over your advice to the first poster. It would seem if the man and woman were friends, the man shouldn't tell. Does brother and sister make that much of a difference? I'm sure it happens, rarely, though probably not infrequently, that a woman may start going out with one brother and ends up marrying another. Or, two sisters end up dating/engaged to the same person that neither one knew the other was seeing and the man had been intimate with both. I'm just not sure (for me) that I would advise someone to tell. Sometimes discretions is the best policy. Just my thoughts
Carolyn Hax: I disagree. I think if the man and woman were friends he should still tell.
And, frankly, if my sister turned up engaged to a guy I had once dated, I would tell her we'd dated. On the spot, probably. But that's an apple to the orange of the first question. This was a guy who (unless, again, he had a day-saving identical twin) was at least bisexual, and who by not acknowledging the brother was setting a tone of secrecy about it. Even before we talk about the health implications, there are the Potential Emotional Bomb implications. If anyone you cared about was holding a funny-looking "bowling ball" and you heard a soft ticking noise you had reason to believe was coming from the "bowling ball," I really hope you'd say something. (And not entrust the possible liar to tell you the truth about what she does and doesn't know about it.)
Not the Waltons: Hi Carolyn,
Just curious as to why you advised the brother to go directly to his sister, and not to the fiance with a "you tell her or I will" ultimatum. Clearly, she needs to go into this marriage with open eyes and all relevant information, and if her husband-to-be is closeted and in denial, she needs to get out. But perhaps he's openly bisexual and she already knows this. Then the question is, does she need to know that one of his previous relationships was with her brother?
Carolyn Hax: I tried to cover this in my preceding answer, but just in case--I'm afraid the guy could too easily say, "She already knows," and where's the brother then? What if the guy made that up, and she doesn't know?
You're right about the possible consequence of her already knowing her fiance is bi and then finding out, gratuitously, that her brother and fiance had a relationship. (Although I could argue that, if they were openly involved, she'll find out eventually, and when she does she might be even angrier for being made to look the fool for being the last to know.) But it seems the brother could avoid all this by not leading the conversation with why he knows what he knows. Yknow?
River City: I've seen that a few times in your letters, readers seems to think a serious transgression is negated if the person who was hurt found out by snooping. Obviously people who do bad things would claim that so they can rationalize their misactions, but why would a 3rd party blame the victim so? what is it about gen X values that blames the snooper rather than the bad person who is caught?
Carolyn Hax: What is it about whoeveryouare values that blames an entire generation? I've seen plenty of people, X, Y and otherwise, argue that snooping is fine because "everyone does it" or because it's the only way to prove you;re being wronged/betrayed/deceived by your secretly bisexual fiance. And I've seen people argue they can't bring up what they discovered because they discovered it by snooping. It's a source of diverse wrongheaded opinions.
I'd argue for a middle ground where the snooper acknowledges fault for snooping, and points out that this doesn't negate the serious transgression that the snooping turned up.
And I;d argue that the person who tries to slither out of the transgression by focusing only on the snooping is someone you should have dumped a long time ago.
And I'd argue that the ideal moment to realize this is not after illicitly turning up some horrible trangression, but upon having been reduced to snooping.
Washington, D.C.: I was accused yesterday of starving myself by two of my co-workers. I am about 100 pounds overweight and have (finally!) started to exercise regularly and eat extremely healthy foods (under the guidance of my doctor). I explained all this, and they kept trying to get me to eat french fries, which I nicely, and then forcefully, declined. They are both trying to lose weight as well. I also have a friend who is following a healthy lifestyle as well, and has found similar co-worker issues. (And I've also found this in the past at other jobs, multiple times, different people, all female though incidentally)
Why is this? It makes me upset because I feel like (consciously or unconsciously), they are trying to get me to fail. This is the first time I've actually said no though. But since women have such distorted body images, you would think that we would help each other, like my friend and I do for each other.
Carolyn Hax: They're trying to make themselves feel better. Please just keep doing what you're doing, and if need be avoid having lunch with these two.
Washington, D.C.: OK--A very close friend invited my husband and I to her wedding in Europe this summer. I promised I would go, assuming we could use our frequent flyer miles for the airfare. Well, no such luck. Now the trip will be so expensive we will need to dip into savings. I am inclined to do so, my husband is against it. I think it would be a great experience---perhaps our last chance before we have kids to go overseas. And we do have the money, although it would be a stretch. I don't know how to resolve this.
Carolyn Hax: Make a well-researched case for a possibly once-in-a-lifetime trip that you'd want to go on even if this wedding weren't happening, and explain why. Ask if he has a trip of this kind he'd like to take, and be open to what he says.
Then, if he's still against it, drop it--but tell him you've got the itch now and would like to start saving and planning (and researching ways you can use your miles) to take a trip like this in the near future.
West Chester, Pa.: I recently suffered my second miscarriage, and am having difficulty dealing with a pregnant friend. After my first miscarriage I have been going to counselling to deal with my resentment towards other pregnant women and have made alot of progress. Unfortunatley this one friend and I have had trouble since my first loss, as her bad relationship and thoughtless pregnancy really highlighted the reasons why I had waited until I had a strong marriage to get pregnant. We talked about my loss and her pregnancy and began to move forward, until my second pregnancy and subsequent loss which she refused to acknowledge. I have to see her socially and am having a difficult time being positive towards her. I have been able to overcome my general aversion to pregnant women, but her self-centeredness and entitlement make her company difficult to bear. I wish people understoof that those of us who have lost pregnancies are truly suffering, and the acknowledgement of freinds and family is invaulable to our grieving.
I also wish there were more media coverage on pregnancy loss- we seem to form a hidden group in society that people would rather not see.
Carolyn Hax: There is plenty of coverage here, and I hope you realize a lot of people do understand and do feel your loss.
I don't think, though, that this problem with your friend is about miscarriages or easy pregnancies. It just sounds as if you don't like each other much, and under different circumstances you might have been able to fake it. Now that you know you can't fake it, please feel free to allow some distance between you. If you're forced to see her socially, that's what arm's length civility is for. You can do it.
McLean, Va.: Hi Carolyn,
My parents are very well off. They deserve it, my dad worked hard all his life and invested wisely. Do I wish they helped their kids out more than they do? Sure, I guess but I certainly don't resent them for hoarding their money. My problem is how they always cry poor. For instance, if we're talking about how good Starbucks coffee is, my folks will say "we can't afford Starbucks, we still dring Folgers" or when my mom complains that she doesn' sleep well and I tell them they should look into a new mattress like the one I have they say they can't afford that. I believe it's a backhanded way of criticizing me for my buying decisions because if you can afford a $200,000 boat, you can afford a &-@#ing cup of Starbucks. What do you think?
Carolyn Hax: I think you're angry at them for hoarding their money and so you see everything else about them through that lens. Try this one, see if it feels better: "For people with a $200,000 boat, they sure drink crappy coffee." (With apologies to Folger's.)
It could be you;re right that they're backhandedly criticizing your spending habits. But since it's not certain, you can choose to read the uncertainty a different way. They have your ways, you have yours, what a lovely day to be out on a boat.
Peoria, Ill.: My wife was arrested a few days ago for domestic assualt. Basically, she broke my nose during a fight, then called the police to have me arrested (who, in turn, took one look at my blood all over the house and handcuffed her). This was the third such incident in about a year, although it was her first arrest (my nose is starting to become noticeably crooked). We have been married for less than a year.
Although I have been apart from her since the incident, she has contacted me and is essentially blaming me for provoking the attack. More troubling, though, is that she does not seem as though she understands that her frequent fits of rage are extremely abnormal. She is often is as angry as she was when she hit me, but isn't usually violent towards me (though a number of glasses, picture frames, and other household items have paid a hefty price). Moreover, these fits come in spurts, with periods of manic behavior in between, so I believe that she is bipolar.
Anyway, I am not sure what to do. I love her and don't want to lose her. But I also cannot live a life fulled with so much turmoil. I used to be known as extraodinarily even-keeled, but now I am irritable and often enraged, especially after a huge fight with my wife over what seems like nothing to me.
If I go back, I will insist on counselling and sobriety (we are both big drinkers and it has not helped the situation at all, as I am sure you might imagine). But I don't think I can go back until she shows me some sign that she understands that she needs serious help. Any advice?
Carolyn Hax: Do not go back. You are in danger, physically and emotionally, and it's time to start taking care of yourself. Once you've gotten counseling, gotten sober, gotten a good lawyer and gotten something resembling your even keel back, then that will be a better time to make any necessary decisions about your wife. If you need a counseling referral, call 1-800-799-SAFE, and mention that alcohol is an issue too so you get someone with the right training. (If that's not info they have, ask your regular doc about a therapist who would be trained to handle both marriage and fam therapy and alcohol treatment, of call the local branches of the American Psychological and Psychiatric associations.)
To the miscarriage poster: I feel for you, having suffered one myself, but please see the deep and unnecessary judgment in your attitude. "Thoughtless" pregnancy? You waited until your "strong marriage"? Hey, lady, there are lots of choices in this world. Hers weren't ones you'd make, but they are hers. I hear a LOT of jealousy and bitterness in your answer and her vibes toward you might well be a reaction to those quite obvious feelings.
Carolyn Hax: Thank you.
Washington, D.C.: Wondering if I'm bound for a rebound. Basically, broke up with boyfriend of three years about four months ago. It's been hard, but I do finally have interest in another guy and I would like to make a move somehow. But the new guy is a friend and I don't want to discover in a few weeks that I was fooled by my own emotions into thinking I wanted something romantic with the friend when really it was just loneliness/eagerness to move on from painful breakup/whatever emotional thing it could be that i may not see myself right now. Is any next relationship likely to be a "rebound"?
Carolyn Hax: There are no rules. All you can do is proceed slowly, and maybe keep a more-vigilant-than-usual lookout for out-of-control emotions and moments of self-deception.
Am I depressed?: My boyfriend says he thinks I am clinically depressed. He would probably know what clinically depressed looks like, having been through more than his fair share of mental health challenges. I don't really think I am, but how can I tell? I really don't want to go see his psychiatrist and get put on meds if the real problem is just that his mental health issues are weighing heavy on my mind. Please help!
Carolyn Hax: A psychiatrist isn't going to hold you down and make you take medication. You have control over your care, if in fact you choose to receive care. Yes, it's possible your BF is wrong, but I can't see any reason not to talk to someone and get screened for depression. http://www.depression-screening.org/ has an online test and, even better, places to call to get an in-person screening. If nothing else you'll be better educated about what your BF goes/has been through. Have a look.
Fairfax, Va.: Well off parents - Or perhaps they can afford that expensive boat because they didn't waste (to their mind) their money on boutique coffee. Different people value different things. My sister is a traveler and I am a nester. I can't imagaine how she can spend so much on a one week trip and she thinks I am crazy for what I spend on furniture.
Carolyn Hax: And each of you is evolved enough not to feel superior to the other for it, right? Just, conveniently, better equipped to live you happen to be living?
Washington, D.C.: Tomorrow, I may very well see the guy I dated for the past 18 months for the last time. The guy left town in December and plans to travel before returning to school next fall. He's coming to town for his last hurrah. The terms of our relationship were vague and ambiguous; he was my best friend but we never appeared in public as a couple. It sucked. And in the end, I started calling him on it, going so far as to say that I didn't want to see him off.
Anyway. Here's the deal. For Christmas, he gave me an expensive bottle of perfume. And I don't know what to do with it. I don't want to wear it; it makes me sick and it is a bittersweet reminder of everything wrong with this guy anyway. I'm tempted to eBay it and donate the proceeds to a worthy cause. I'm also tempted to sweetly hand it back to him and say that I can't keep it, that it would be a reminder of how much pain he caused me. What are the ethical implications here?
Carolyn Hax: Do nothing with it until you're sure what you want to do with it. Unless it's a 3-cubic-yard bottle and it's racking up storage fees.
And while the meeting tomorrow may have Harlequinian magnetism to it, you might want to consider taking a pass. Unless you anticipate tying up loose ends or just enjoying his company for its own sake, it just sounds like torture.
Wedding Trip: Carolyn, wouldn't the biggest argument for going on this trip be that she already promised "a very close friend" that she would go? The promise should figure into this equation somehow...
Carolyn Hax: The promise was contingent, I though, on the use of FF miles. If that wasn't made clear to the bride, though, I'm sure a truly close friend would understand if she explained the circumstances behind her having to break her promise.
Schenectady, N.Y.: I can't help wondering the if the possibly bisexual fiance is a made-up story, though a great one to provoke discussion. It seems odd that the writer wouldn't have heard before about the fiance's name, and also odd to say of someone with whom he was "hot and heavy for six months" that he was sure he was recognized. That he was recognized seems like it would be a given not worth mentioning!!
Carolyn Hax: I wondered, too, but I couldn't be certain either way--except that it was interesting and, more important, thought-provoking.
Health Implications: Carolyn, I agree that the brother should tell his sister about the relationship. I am a little annoyed at your "health implications" comment, though. There are possible health implications of ANY sexual activity with anyone who's had any other sexual activity. The fact that he has had a homosexual relationship doesn't make it any more or less important that his partner be tested - if you're sexually active, you should be tested for STDs regularly. Period. Being gay/straight/bi has nothing to do with it. Homosexual activity might increase the risk, but if you are sexually active, risk exists and you should be aware of it and take it seriously.
Sorry to jump you, I just think that comments like that one unnecessarily perpetuate some unfortunate assumptions...
Carolyn Hax: Actually, I'm glad you jumped. You said yourself part of why I felt I had to mention it--homosexual activity might increase the risk. As would any secrecy, which brings the greater urgency. An established couple may have gotten tested at the outset, but they're not going to get retested over the years of their engagement/marriage. If this guy is bi or gay and hiding, there's a greater risk he'll sneak around, doing things that put him at greater risk of STDs with a population at greater risk, while also increasing the risk he'll be in denial about his own health.
These were the health implications I had in mind when I said I wouldn't get into them. I htought they were understood. I don't like the generalizations, either, but this is just not the same as, say, a sister realizing she had, years ago, a wild fling with her sister's new fiance. That would mean only that he'd once had a wild fling with another girl, which a girl is going to assume of any non-virgin guy she's with, and which wouldn't be any kind of predictor of future infidelity.
Help Me Be Less Nervous, USA: I'm nervous, for reasons I don't get, about my parents meeting my same-sex SO tomorrow. They're supportive, everything's fine, but I'm feeling like I'm waiting for some ugly surprise for some reason. Thoughts?
Carolyn Hax: Is there something about your SO you're worried about/don't like, and kind of denying, and expecting your parents to spot? It needn't be about the same-sex thing at all.
Though if this is the first time you;ve done this, certainly that alone would explain a few nerves.
Louisville, Ky.: Recently, I snooped into my boyfriend's cell phone. It's too long of a story, but I felt justified based on some suspicious behavior. I found pretty much what I expected to find (which was not what I would consider a relationship-ender, but more of a conversation-starter), and confronted him about it... without admitting that I was snooping (explained my question in another way, and he didn't suspect). To his credit, he was honest about it, appropriately contrite, and we had a long-overdue discussion. The situation has become right again, and since, I have not felt I had cause to snoop nor have I snooped. However, I feel guilty about how I found this information. I didn't need to snoop, his reaction tells me that I could have asked the question and got a truthful response without resorting to this. (Admittedly, I do have some trust issues because of my ex's infidelity and duplicity, and I am working on them.) Should I tell him that I snooped? Even if I don't intend to do it again?
Carolyn Hax: Yes. You lied to him and he was open with you. I think you do need to correct the imbalance, if only so you live up to the expectations you set for him, and have since enjoyed. Better for both of you.
Depressed about Anti-depressants: I recently made the decision to go off my anti-anxiety/anti-depressants. I've been completely off of them for about a month. And I kind of feel like crap, but I can't decide if it's really because of the meds, if it's winter blues, or something else. I find myself being irritable for no reason and having some very strange nightmares. Reading back over this I guess it sounds like I'm depressed. I'm just sick of being on medicine and I don't want to have to take these suckers for the rest of my life.
Any words of wisdom?
Carolyn Hax: Yes. Talk to your doctor. Going off meds is not a do-it-yourself venture, and in fact can be dangerous. (And please don't talk yourself out of calling the doctor b/c you're afraid to get scolded based on what I just said. Just call and get your care back on track, whatever track you and your doctor agree is best, given your view of meds and given your mood without them.
Washington, D.C.: My adult family is organizing a family trip. Of the "four people in a car going everywhere together" variety. While I love my family dearly, their choices in siteseeing, hotels, etc. don't coincide with mine. In addition, what I like and can afford is very different from theirs. I've already tried backing out with the "Look, I want us to still like each other, and I'm afraid that won't happen if I go" approach, but they're not believing me. Any words of wisdom?
Carolyn Hax: Either surrender yourself to it, or don't go.
Anywhere: Is there anything to say to a friend who invites herself along when she hears that you're having a meal with a mutual friend? The mutual friend and I (who knew each other first) would like to have time together to catch up, but our other friend feels hurt if she finds out that we planned something without her, and she promptly asks if she can come too. I think she has depression (but no proof), and I don't want to hurt her, but sometimes I just want one-on-one time with Mutual Friend.
Carolyn Hax: Then schedule it privately. And also schedule things solo with the mutual friend, so you then have a precedent of one-on-ones with all configurations.
Carolyn Hax: That's all, folks. Thanks for coming, happy weekend and type to you next week (back to noon as usual).
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