Tell Me About It
Friday, August 31, 2007; 12:00 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.
Mail can be directed to Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn. A semi-fluffy wedding question for you. My maid of honor keeps suggesting wedding colors and bridesmaid dresses that I, frankly, hate. First, how do I deal with these suggestions without turning into an "It's my wedding!" bridezilla?
Second, do you think chocolate brown dresses with flowers in assorted shades of pink would look good? That's what I want, but the MOH and mother claim it doesn't match. (But I like it!)
Carolyn Hax: If this is "semi," what is fully?
Let's call the rhetorical--not sure I want an actual answer.
Tell them you're not trying to match.
Virginia: How come The Post says your column is "away" but you're still doing the chats? Very curious to know.
Carolyn Hax: Often when I take a vacation, I still do my show. Plus, by the time my column is "away," I'm usually "here," since I file in advance.
Grumpy, Washington, D.C.: Any quick tips on cheering up? I've been in a funk lately. Are you always cheery? I bet you are!
Carolyn Hax: I don't know how a person who's always cheery could write advice; the way I see it, it demands at least some experience visiting some very dark places.
The only quick fix I know to a foul mood is doing something nice for someone(s) else. Give it a shot and report back.
Wedding Colors: Chocolate with pink flowers sounds great to me. (if she's soliciting opinions)
Carolyn Hax: I've always wondered about flowers and "matching" anyway. Do flowers ever clash with dirt? Blue skies? Gray ones? Sunsets? Their own stems?
Comparison to the ex: Hey Carolyn,
Is it a problem when you keep thinking about an ex during a current relationship? Especially when you never want to date that ex ever again but can't help making comparisons? I don't know how to get the internal comparisons to stop. I know they're not useful.
Carolyn Hax: Oh no, they're extremely useful. Every ex--the one you miss, the one you don't, the one you regret, the one for whom the word regret isn't strong enough since you'd really rather erase your whole inner hard drive--teaches you something about yourself. If you're constantly comparing, then don't try to force yourself to stop. Instead, try to make it useful. Break down why you're doing it, what you are and arent' getting from this relationship, when you've felt good with someone and why, whether it lasted. There's important information in here somewhere.
Georgia: My mother once told me that my older sister had been sexually touched by a man down the street when she was a little girl. My mom (who is an alcoholic in denial) was drunk at the time she told me and doesn't remember ever telling me this. She also told me that my sister was too young to have remembered it.
My sister has always had lots of emotional/self esteem issues and I've wondered whether she has a repressed memory that has been the trigger for the emotional stuff that has been hitting the fan for years. Should I mention this to my sister? Or would that make it worse? What is my responsibility?
Carolyn Hax: Take all the details you have to a reputable counselor, and explore your best course of action from there. That way you could lay out the details of your sister's struggles, and of your family circumstances, before a trained set of eyes.
How to compromise?: My girlfriend and I get along really well, love each other deeply and mutually support our respective goals in life. But we do have our differences. She is a bit of a slob and I'm a neat freak. She's overweight and I'm a health nut. So far we've compromised on neatness issues that makes us both comfortable enough. I am OK with her weight for the most part but every now and again it bothers me (and my lower back). Any ideas on how to move past this issue? (We've talked about making healthy eating choices and she knows she needs to lose weight. I don't feel the need to tell her what she already knows but I do see her make poor eating choices constantly, like drinking two sodas with a meal instead of something with less sugar)
Carolyn Hax: The two questions in your question--"How to compromise?" and "How to move past this issue?"--are actually two different questions with two different answers.
To the first, my answer is, there is no (further) compromise. You pretty much say it yourself--there's nothing to be accomplished by telling her what she already knows. She has chosen to be heavier than she has to be, in exchange for the ability to have two sodas at dinner.
So it's the second question that really applies here: How to move past this?, which I take to mean, how to get to a point where this doesn't bother you?
Your lower back might not be something anyone can help here (unless you choose to break up, obviously), but there is a way you can at least try to accept her two-soda way of life, even though it's one you consciously don't choose for yourself. Extend the reasoning of the preceding sentence: You've consciously chosen someone who makes conscious choices that differ from yours. In other words, you aren't dating your clone--and that's a good thing, right? You're with her because she has traits that you admire, and maybe wish you also had?
For example, she may be sloppy and overweight by one estimation, but by another she may be relaxed, fun, disinclined to get snared by details. One person's shaky self-discipline is another's "carpe diem."
So if you're tired of veering back and forth between enjoying her and wanting her to change, maybe it's worth a closer look at exactly what it is about her you're enjoying during those good times. That alone can burnish the image of the things you once thought as detractions. Maybe she lightens you up.
It could also point out that you're enjoying her more when she colors inside the lines as you would, and while it's not as happy an ending, it is another useful answer. It means you're waiting for her to change, and you're getting disappointed when you see she hasn't changed. Then it might be time to acknowledge you're not a good fit.
Carolyn Hax: I should have posted that as a two-parter. sorry.
Washington, D.C.: I think that a truly fluffy wedding question has to do with the consistency of the cake.
Carolyn Hax: or the hair.
Georgetown, Washingotn, D.C.: My girlfriend is considering a breast augmentation. She has asked my opinion repeatedly about this. So far I've gotten away with hedgey answers such as I like the way she looks now and am happy as long as she's happy, but she's really serious about this idea, and honestly, it could really enhance her figure. I love her either way, but is it helpful if I tell her I think it's a pretty good idea?
Carolyn Hax: Speaking of strained backs. Mine is trying to push my forehead into the keyboard, but I'm determined to answer it straight.
If she's making a serious decision, then you owe her a serious answer. But that means an informed answer--no, "It could really enhance your figure," but a well-researched, well-thought out response that rests on knowledge of the risks, the effects on the body, the predictability of the results, the costs, and all the little stuff no one would expect you to think about, like jogging, aging, breastfeeding, posture, fitting into clothes, and a host of others I can't even think of right now. This is surgery on someone you love, not bikini stuffing on someone you stand next to in photographs.
Working Mom Burn Out: Carolyn, I've been doing this working mom gig for nine months and I am fried like a green tomato. How are we supposed to manage it all?
Any tips you want to share about balancing things better? I guess the hardest part is that I feel nothing is getting 100 percent.
Carolyn Hax: If you were home full-time, you would feel that nothing is getting 100 percent. Small children are a 24-7-365 enterprise, and no one, no one, is fresh for that many hours for that many days for as many years as it takes. Just be as loving as you can at home, as competent as you can at work, and try not to confuse the two.
Washington, D.C.: The fluffy question is also about owning your own choices. I am coaching a bride-to-be friend on how to accept all manner of advice from her mother and her best friend at the cost of having the wedding they want and not the wedding she wants. Bridezilla = crazy lady demanding that everyone wear pink to match the flowers.
Carolyn Hax: Darn it. You're right. Thanks.
Maryland: I will be visiting and staying at my boyfriend's parents' house for the first time (I have meet them before but not at his house). I do not want to show up empty handed, but I'm confused on what would be a proper gift. Chocolate? Tea? Anything out there for less than $50? Somebody suggested flowers but we will be taking a six hour plane ride to get there (Seattle to Florida) so... not exactly ideal for me. Thank you!
Carolyn Hax: People who take six-hour plane rides to stay with people are not expected to schlep gifts. A good and prompt thank-you note will suffice, and if you'd like, you can also send a small gift, if after spending time in the home an idea comes to you.
If you really feel funny with the empty-hands idea, I think a nice pair or two of candles won't weigh you down, and they fill the something-they-can-consume requirement without requiring knowledge of their taste in food. (Though your BF should be able to help you with that.)
Nothing is getting 100 percent: That's perfectly acceptable. We live in a country where we're supposed to super mom, super dad, super student or super whatever.
Getting a B is okay. Allow yourself that. Stop thinking of it as "not an A."
Carolyn Hax: Standing and clapping, thanks.
Breast augmentation boyfriend again : Thanks for your answer. Honestly I hadn't even thought it through that far -- I was working on the assumption that the surgery would be fine and that I'm just deciding between the way my girlfriend looks now and the way she'd look later. I really don't have a preference whether she does it or not. I'm just worried about her potential resentment if she chooses the alternative I didn't advocate. Sorry I made you jam your forehead into the keyboard.
Carolyn Hax: Tsokay, it wouldn't have been with full force. But you really do have to think of it in terms of cutting into your own body for the sole purpose of making yourself more attractive--without the guarantee it would work, as some very famous people have very famously demonstrated for us all to see.
Would you do it to yourself? That's really the first question you need to answer.
Fat and sloppy...: But...when he met her was she "fat?" I mean, either he saw then that she was bigger than what he liked and said whateva, she's hawt or he's been waiting all this time for her to lose that extra weight so she can really be the perfect woman he knows she can be...
Carolyn Hax: Either way--waiting for her to get back to her old shape is no different from waiting for your relationship to get back to the way it was in your first six months together. At least for predictive purposes, the only reality that counts is the current one.
Standing and Clapping For Mediocrity?: Why are you so enthusiastically embracing mediocrity? It's slacking off and the celebration thereof that is ripping this country's social fabric. We're a bunch of lazy fatties, and you think that's great? Come on!
Carolyn Hax: You're right. I'll now stand and clap for the people driving 15 mph over the speed limit through residential neighborhoods on 4 hrs sleep, jacked on ventis. Then this country would be back to its imaginary glory days when everyone did everything and it was always great and the world merely stood back and admired.
Unless you were kidding, then I'll stand and clap for a good one.
To the neat-freak, health nut: There's a difference between loving someone and respecting someone. Sounds like you may love this girlfriend but perhaps your respect for her has fallen as she hasn't shown initiative or determination in adopting the lifestyle choices that you espouse. If you don't respect someone I think you might have a hard time making them your partner.
Carolyn Hax: That, too, thanks.
Plane rides don't negate etiquette!: ALWAYS bring something to the hostess. Take care to find out what you can but don't be too familiar if you don't know them well. Tea or coffee is good and not too heavy. If you're arriving and can stop at a store for a nice bottle of wine/liquor. Homemade cookies.
Although I recently brought banana bread to someone allergic to bananas and coffee beans when they had no grinder... eek! But the bread was consumed by the other houseguests!
then you behave, help with cooking, cleaning, don't make unreasonable requests, participate in family activities as long as reasonable, are polite and interested in others, and definitely write a thank you note!!!
Carolyn Hax: The last paragraph gets an A, but even Miss Manners will give a pass on the hostess gift under certain circumstances, as long as there's good guest behavior and a note.
Breast augmentation:"Would you do it to yourself?" Huhhh???
Possibly the guy doesn't want to undergo potentially dangerous surgery to enhance a secondary sexual characteristic, but apparently the girl does (she brought it up; surely she's researched the risks).
I'd just stick with "it's your decision."
Carolyn Hax: Literalists unite!
"Cutting into your own body for the sole purpose of making yourself more attractive." That was the antecedent to, "Would you do it to yourself?" She was asking him for an opinion, and he, as someone who cares about her, should make it an informed opinion. I understand, this is way controversial advice, but I'm sticking to it.
Provo, Utah: I would just like to say that I don't think any bridesmaid relishes the idea of wearing a brown dress. Pink flowers are great -- that's not it. They are trying to tactfully tell this bride that she needs to choose a more flattering color for her bridesmaids.
Carolyn Hax: Then they need to stop being tactful and say, "Brown looks really bad on me, can we try a different color?" That's in fact even more tactful, since it's then about the bridesmaid's skin tone (fate), vs. the bride's taste (choice).
Plenty of bridesmaids relish the idea of wearing a brown dress. It's generalizations like this that turn a perfectly good fluff question into one with much bigger things to say about human behavior.
Can't we just say...:...that there's a lot of space between mediocrity and perfection?
Carolyn Hax: Can't we just say, perfection doesn't exist?
Dollywood, Tenn.: What is the correct answer to "Does this make me look fat?"
Carolyn Hax: Depends on how reversible the decision is to wear this:
If you're in the dressing room, say, eh, it's fine, but not the most flattering thing you've ever worn.
If you're at home and the tags are still on, same.
If you're at home and returning the item isn't an option, then suggest pairing it with other things, if it isn't a flat-out lost cause. "I like it, but the top/shoe/belt isn't right."
If you're already at an event, then you say, don't worry, you look [supportable compliment here].
Etiquette re-examined: I'd disagree with the idea that you have to show up with something, especially in these days of baggage weight limits, restrictions on what you can bring, etc. - ask your boyfriend what they'd like, and you can always send it after. That counts too - so does picking up something while you're there, seeing a need and filling it.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the backup.
Arlington Va.: OR, the fat girlfriend doesn't respect herself OR the boyfriend. Not taking care of yourself is disrespectful to yourself and the relationship. She could bother to become interested in something he is -- exercise -- and offer to take walks with him. Being sloppy is disrespectful to his wishes. He obviously cares about her and takes into account her personality and wishes; we don't know that is reciprocated.
Carolyn Hax: Why does she have to take care of herself to -his- standards for it to be considered respect? If she's well-groomed and at a steady weight, is that not considered a sign of self-respect if the BMI table says it isn't? Why does she have to exercise just because he does?
I agree that obesity is a serious problem in this country, and that there are many things we as a society have to do to address the problem. But pointing fingers at total strangers as if it's our business how they eat and live is not one of them.
Re: Dollywood: I think the correct answer is "please stop asking me that question."
Carolyn Hax: But isn't that a yes?
Silly questions:"No, you always look fat."
Carolyn Hax: Standing, clapping and whistling.
I'll remain anonymous, obviously....: The boyfriend with the overweight girlfriend doesn't sound to me to expect perfection. Rather, I think he has a very real concern about healthy behaviors. It's not unreasonable to worry about someone's health, and weight is an important aspect.
My husband was a triathelete when we married, and now is pretty overweight. Geesh, we have two small kids. But I worry that he drinks too much soda and eats too many chips - as you get older, it's harder to lose the weight. Not that I wish I didn't marry him, but it's a real concern that goes beyond whether he looks good in his swim trunks.
Carolyn Hax: This is a great example, because it has all the elements necessary to round out (he he) the other side--wasn't always this way, making unhealthy choices, something very significant is at stake that isn't about him or about you.
It also brings the issue back to the whole character of a person, and what you can do about that.
Starting with the second issue, you can express your concern, you can make a point of not having soda and chips in the house, you can invite a person to take walks with you, but you can't stop him from eating what he wants to eat. You also can't stop a falling piano from dodging an overweight chip-eater and landing on a triathlete. So, maybe the most important thing you can do is have a good perspective on the risks before you decide to do or say anything.
An important part of that decision has to be, again, the character of the person. Some people are more receptive to intervention than others, some people have more willpower than others, some carpe more diems than others. Know him, know the true risk, know the limits of what you can do, and respond accordingly. This advice could be for you, or for the guy whose post started it all.
More on brown dress: I look terrible in dark red, but that's what my best friend chose for her bridesmaid dresses. So what? I wore it with a smile because it's not really important if I'm a bit washed out in the photos. Just suck it up and let the bride pick what she wants and don't whine about it unless it's truly hideous (I had no choice but to nix the dress that made me look like a porn star mixed with a german milkmaid).
Carolyn Hax: She picked the St. Pauli Girl dress?
Re: Arlington: Wow, so Arlington doesn't like fat people.
Taking care of yourself emotionally is just as important as taking care of yourself physically. If I had a boyfriend who thought 10 extra pounds was a moral failing, I'd sneak a pound of butter into everything he ate, watch him blow up like a balloon, then dump him.
Can we all please let go of the idea that if you don't fit a certain body type, it's because you're a failure as a person?
Carolyn Hax: I'll post it, but won't get my hopes up. When you give up cheesecake, you need to find your pleasure somewhere else.
Hostess Candles: Oh PLEASE, no more candles, "special" coffee, or any other kitschy thing that would be "so thoughtful" as a hostess gift. If I'm having you stay in my home, it isn't because I'm just aching to fill my drawers with more thrift store fodder. Please, just feel welcome, be cheerful, clean up after yourself, and don't complain about my crazy cat. I'll consider myself blessed with that, candles not required.
Carolyn Hax: There it is.
FWIW, if you don't use candles, you can use them as firestarters.
I'm tired of wallowing in my own venom all the time. I used to have a career in broadcasting, and due to a move (to a city I love) I now have a job that I hate and am ill suited for (customer service). I've had 15 interviews in the past 2 years, the most recent for doing exactly what I did in my career, and did not get the job. People now only see my recent work as relevant. I have serious doubts my smaller TV market talents will ever be needed in the large city I live in. I have a great guy, a fun volunteer gig twice a month, great health, supportive family....but I am still a raging bitch 40 hours a week and extremely bitter about the job thing. Short of lobotomy, I can't see cheering up about it anytime soon. I have no idea of what job to look for next and feel washed up professionally at age 52.
Carolyn Hax: You'll never cheer up about it if you keep seeing your career choice as a binary one. In fact, intimidating as it is, it's really an everything-but-binary choice. You need to rule out the career you once had, and the career you now have, and get creative with the rest. For the last part, it would probably be helpful to have a professional to consult with. The career field is a little fuzzier and a lot newer than, say, medicine, so it's not like you can check your insurance plan to find a specialist. But if you make a few key calls--to a past mentor, to a college career office, to headhunters--you might be able to put together a workable list of leads. Find someone, brainstorm, maybe even look for signs in the "fin volunteer gig."
Pennsylvania: Do you read the comments people post after your columns?
Carolyn Hax: Very rarely. Mail sent directly to me takes precedence, and I can barely get through that, since I save it for when I've finished my columns for the week. The comments I have read seemed like a conversation among readers; if there's something there intended for me, the place for that is email@example.com
Anonymous: My ex is getting married soon. This is the man who freaked out over keeping a toothbrush at my house. I know he wasn't right for me and I have a new boyfriend who treats me well and who I know loves me. So why am I so sad? I feel like I'll never really feel that in love again. It's been four years and I've been in therapy but I'm still in mourning over the whole thing. My brains knows better but my heart is on a whole different page.
Carolyn Hax: Is your heart involved with the new boyfriend? Because his treating you well and loving you is great, but it's only half of what you need. Reciprocating feels pretty good too.
And, the whole I'll-never-really-feel-that-in-love-again? Good. I can't help but see the big dramatic "love" of these impossible relationships as a result of strong attraction mixed with desperation. Take away the desperation and, yes, absolutely, the feelings aren't as strong in the sense of their being a day-to-day distraction, but they can actually be deeper, more enduring, and a whole lot more rewarding.
What if it's not about food?: My husband smokes pot. Every day. When we met, it was rare, when we married, it was occasionally. Fast forward a few years, and it's every day. Not only does it feel a lot like lack of respect, it has started to feel like "I need drugs because you're not good enough to make me happy." Ouch. FWIW, we've talked about it, he knows how I feel, so now he avoids smoking around me - in the other room, before I get home, etc. I'm not an ultimatum kind of gal, but it sort of seems like he's already made his choice...
Carolyn Hax: Ya. What's yours? (Families Anonymous or a private counselor who specializes in families of users might be able to help you a lot with this.)
Candles/Firestarters: Almost completely off topic, but your comment made me think of it: at one point I bought "holy smokes" fire starters from the gift shop at the National Cathedral. They're made from bits of wood and the stumps of church candles. A hoot, and useful, and a way to support the Cathedral. Win-win and people loved them as gifts. I've been away from DC for a while now, so don't know if they still sell them.
Carolyn Hax: It is on the topic of hostess gifts, right?
Can I blame this chat for : making a lunch out of some guacomale and chips?
Carolyn Hax: Go for it. It holds blame really well.
Boyfriend's Etiquette: We're all nervous in these situations, but I would make sure, girlfriend, to see how your boyfriend handles everything here during the visit to his parents. Other than focusing on how much the parents like you, remember that you have your first best opportunity to see his family life... For starters, if the parents are going to get huffy because you brought the wrong hostess gift, rather than focusing on this woman he's bringing to meet them, think about why your boyfriend didn't help you to know what to expect?
Carolyn Hax: Nice, thanks.
Reunited.... And It Feels So...: My in-laws were estranged from their son long before I married my wife. He recently patched up his relationship with them to general joy in our family. Over the past few years, my in-laws have given to me a number of family mementos like cufflinks, a watch, etc. that would have gone to their son. I know my in-laws would LOVE to pass them on to their son and also know they would never ask me to give them back. Should I offer to give them back so they can gift them to their son? I know our love for one another isn't connected to these items so I wouldn't miss them. They are sitting in a safe deposit box anyway.
Carolyn Hax: I think it would be good of you to offer, though I'd leave out the they're-just-gathering-dust part. Even if it would mean more for them to be able to give these gifts to their son, I'm sure they hoped you'd see them as meaningful, and your choice not to use them could be misunderstood. Best just to avoid that line of discussion.
THANK YOU!!!: I had my family reunion recently and got to use "Wow" to a rude relative I wasn't looking forward to seeing. It worked great!
Carolyn Hax: Thanks--I've gotten a couple of posts from happy testers. I haven't tried it yet myself.
RE: Comparison to the ex: I always love your advice, but have to disagree with you. I've always found that comparisons are deadly. "If I only had more money" or "If he were more like X" doesn't do anything but frustrate you. You've got to deal with the current situation, not compete with the past or unattainable goals.
Carolyn Hax: And a window into dealing with the current situation is examining the comparisons. "If only I had more money," for example--why? What would that improve, specifically? And saying, "I could be on the beach" is a cop-out; I mean what Specific Problem would it solve? That in itself is a useful exercise. It's like emotion--no, it's not good to be angry all the time, but deciding, "I will stop being angry" isn't going to help much. You have to get to the "why," and that's sitting--usually in plain sight--inside the "what." Which, in this case, are the recurring comparisons.
Maryland: Georgia's question hit a nerve for me. I come from the standard dysfunctional family but problems are so much more severe than my siblings and I'm terrified of relationships. I've only had one and it was a disaster. I've often wondered if something no one will tell me about happened to me when I was too young to remember clearly. How do you find out or am I looking or an excuse? I certainly couldn't approach my mother about it.
Carolyn Hax: Do you have a sibling you trust? If you're in touch with all or most of your family members, you could also go on a fact-finding mission, just getting them to reminisce without leading anyone anywhere specific. I hope, too, you've explored the idea of counseling; it won't offer eyewitnesses to your childhood, but it could help you with the decision and the process of tracking them down. You might also find it's not that different things happened to you, but that the same things happened to different people, who then all showed different effects. Good luck tracking this down.
Sunny Florida: My sister and her husband have an almost three-year-old daughter (an only child). Lately, I've noticed my brother-in-law undermining my sister's attempts at discipline and giving in to my niece whenever she whines or cries. Mom says daughter can't have something, dad gives it to her. Mom says daughter can't do something, dad lets her do that very thing. It's not like my sister is asking a lot of a three-year-old -- telling her she can't have candy before dinner (niece whines, dad gives candy to her), telling her she has to eat two more bites of dinner before she can leave the table (niece cries, dad lets her go play). And so on...
I'm worried that my niece is going to become a brat because she's learning that whining and crying is the best way to get your way, and that she will grow up to treat my sister with the same lack of respect her father shows. There are other examples where I think my brother-in-law doesn't treat my sister respectfully, but when I see him teaching it to my niece, it really bothers me.
So... do I suck it up and ignore it since she's not my kid? Do I talk to my sister about it? Talk directly to my BIL? I'd appreciate advice from you and the gallery...
Carolyn Hax: Unless you have a testy relationship, I'd talk to your sister about it. "I notice X undermining your efforts at discipline a lot lately; that must drive you nuts."
Carolyn Hax: I shouldn't posted that and run, but, oh, look at the time. Wait, I forgot this:
Richmond, Va.: Go for broke: Yes, you look fat, especially in a brown dress, and without a doubt -- without exception even -- when you are wearing a brown dress, holding pink flowers, and the tags have been removed. Then again, it would all be good if your boobs were bigger.
Carolyn Hax: So. Bye, thanks, have a great weekend, and type to you next Friday.
"Wow": Can you refresh my memory on the "wow" response? I remember reading about it in a discussion, but I can't remember the details...
Carolyn Hax: Sure. Summed up here:
Why are you so enthusiastically embracing mediocrity? It's slacking off and the celebration thereof that is ripping this country's social fabric. We're a bunch of lazy fatties, and you think that's great? : Wow.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks.
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