Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems
Friday, February 19, 2010; 12:00 PM
Carolyn was online Friday, Feb. 19, taking 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.
E-mail Carolyn at email@example.com.
Knocked up: Dear Carolyn - after reading this chat last week, I went into a downward spiral of shame and fear suitable perhaps for a Judy Blume novel. This is because I am 14 weeks pregnant by my boyfriend, a surprise for both of us. I want to say that I didn't become pregnant to manipulate him into marrying me or to hold on to him or because my biological clock was screaming. But I am 37, this is my first child and probably an outsider might accuse me of any of those things just like your readers were accusing women who might potentially be in my shoes last week. It happened, and now we are planning for what comes next. I was left feeling last week like, whoa, would Hax and the peanuts think I should get rid of this baby just because we weren't ready, or because it wasn't preceded by a $50,000 wedding like many of my friends' kids? Sometimes I feel like if we all waited for the perfect relationship or the perfect time to start a family or the perfect wedding or whatever that no one would ever manage to get married or have kids.
Carolyn Hax: Wait a minute. Who said anything about $50,000 weddings as desired precedent to childbearing? Wedding excess is a punching bag around here, not a path to glory.
Did you, or did you not, deceive your boyfriend about using birth control? That's the only issue here. If you genuinely conceived by accident, then, mazel tov. But if you misrepresented yourself in any way as a means to the end of having a baby, then I do hope you and your conscience have a long talk, followed by coming clean to your boyfriend. Hiding behind the perfection-doesn't-exist screen is disingenuous to the extreme. Perfection isn't achievable, but honesty is.
D.C.: How do I know if it's a bad idea to hang out casually with a very recent ex? He dumped me, and by "hang out" I mean meet for lunch or see a movie.
Carolyn Hax: Dunno. What do you want out of it, besides lunch and a movie?
Carolyn Hax: Did I forget to say hello? Hello. I had a frenetic morning, and I guess it carried over.
SYWO: I am a man in my 20s with a serious girlfriend. Before her I had one other girlfriend who I dated from high school till age 23. I think I might want to marry my current girlfriend, but my father, uncles and several friends have all used the same phrase: "Sow your wild oats." They all buy into the idea that guys are supposed to play around a bit first before settling down. I have never done this. I don't really date or get physical outside of relationships, but with so many people questioning this, I'm not sure whether I'm one of the "good guys" or just a fool for thinking about marriage before I see what else is out there. What do you think?
Carolyn Hax: I think there's not enough information about you here for me to tell the difference. If you're secure by nature, then you could be on the path that makes sense for you--an act of courage. If you crave security, then you could be tethering yourself to someone as a means of avoiding scary uncertainties--an act of cowardice.
The latter put themselves on a course for a destabilizing crisis somewhere along the way, when the desire for things they denied themselves starts to consume them. The more people they've recruited into their security play--spouse, kids, extended family, pets, etc--the more damage this reckoning does.
The people who just fit well into committed life aren't immune to such regrets, of course, but they're far less vulnerable to them.
So, as always, it's about being honest with yourself about who you are. There are a lot of ways to be a fool, and they include not shopping around, shopping around mindlessly, or mindlessly succumbing to pressure to shop around/not shop around. That's why the answer to any question along these lines always becomes about your internal compass. Do you trust it, and should you?
Cleveland, Ohio: My 44 year old husband has a 20 something female admirer at work. He describes her as "perky" and tells me she has asked him out for drinks, brought him gifts and told other co-workers she thinks he's adorable. He's fairly new at this job and says the co-workers are not big fans of Ms. Perky. My husband says he finds her admiration sweet and would never go out with her.
We have what I would describe a happy mutually satisfying relationship. However...
Recently we've been cash strapped and my/not his 19-year-old son is causing some strife on the home front.
I am not particularly concerned but I do have a nagging uncomfortable feeling. So many friends, male and female, have ditched their boring old spouses (and troublesome teens) for young, interesting, "perky" newness.
I don't want to dwell, but ugly thoughts creep into my mind at the least opportune times. Any ideas to help me get past this would be appreciated.
Carolyn Hax: Even if you and your husband were getting along famously right now, it would still be a problem that your husband wasn't adding 2 (woman asks out and buys gifts for married colleague) + 2 (woman is disliked by office-mates who know her better than he does) and arriving at 4.
Granted you haven't supplied much information, but the information here says her admiration isn't "sweet," it's poisonous. He may not believe you, but please explain to him anyway that you're not speaking out of jealousy but instead a self-preservation impulse--and not just for you personally, but for both of you. And that sense of self-preservation says to stay as far away from this woman as possible, for the reasons given above.
Carolyn Hax: Oh, and the part about your specific question: If he can hear this and acknowledge that you have a point, that will become your means of getting past it, at least most of the way. Then at least you'll be able to believe your husb has a clue.
D.C. : Dunno. I miss him and want the chance to be around him, I guess, but am worried it might keep me from moving on.
Carolyn Hax: I think you worry correctly. If you were able to cite something specific and limited, a la, "He's the only one I trust to advise me about my office politics," or, "He understands my family, and I just had a bad visit with them, and it would make me feel better to talk about it with someone without having to fill in all the back story," then I'd say to try lunch and see how you feel afterward. But just wanting to be back in his orbit again means your most pressing post-breakup job is to build a new life without him, and so you're likely to set yourself back by seeing him. That's just the way it looks from here.
Wild Oats: So, monogamy makes you a "good guy?"
Are your male relatives advocating you sow your wild oats by manipulating and using women--or do they just think it can be healthy to experience new people and things before making a commitment?
This is starting to make me wonder if SYWO is mature enough for marriage, which may be what the relatives are picking up on.
Carolyn Hax: Ugh, thank you. I meant to flag the "good guy" thing but I lost the thought in the writing process.
Need a change: I know career advice is not your usual forte, but I'm at a turning point and need direction. I'm a 30-something married mom with a full-time job, and I need a career/life change. I'm finally admitting to myself that corporate 9-5 is not for me. I think I've always known, but I'm finally fed up with not being able to give 100% to all the important things in my life: my household, my child, my marriage, my job. Something has to give, and it needs to start with a different career track. Financially, I still need to work, but I can scale it back to part time and take a salary reduction. I want to couple this with a different career track that allows me to gain experience in and pursue my true passions of art and writing. Would a counselor/therapist be able to help me formulate a plan? Or a career counselor?
Carolyn Hax: I'm going to send this to Hax-Philes for the usual reason: Two or three opinions are swell, but dozens could really give you some ideas.
Reminder: This means I won't be posting answers here, so if you have something to say right now, write it down to save for later. I imagine it'll be up on Philes next week sometime (but Jodi can tell me otherwise). Thanks, everybody, in advance.
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: I just realized my husband is one of those "nice to me, mean to the waiter" people. He is peaches-and-cream to people within his circle or those he wants to impress, rude and unpleasant to everyone else. Part of it is he has some paranoid issues about being taken advantage of--I think he could stand therapy, but I'm sure he would never agree to it. Now that I had this epiphany, I don't know what to do. We have an infant and I don't want her to grow up modeling this behavior.
Carolyn Hax: You go to therapy by yourself. I'm sorry that this is always my answer in these situations, but there's just no substitute for ongoing guidance from a veteran source when you realize you have to navigate a long and complicated road. That doesn't mean you have to stay in counseling for the rest of your marriage or your daughter's childhood (whichever ends later), but it can give you a solid start plus a place to go for occasional tuneups and repairs. Usual disclaimer applies: Just choose the provider carefully and don't be afraid to try someone else if the 1st/2d/whatever person doesn't seem like a good fit.
Carolyn Hax: Jodi says Thursday for the career-change Philes post. (Thanks, J.)
Perky Office mate - contrast my experience: I was the perky officemate in my twenties ... about twenty years ago. It was a silly crush, really, although the guy was single ;-). The guy (in his early forties) handled this with great grace. He kindly and firmly told me that he was enjoying being my mentor. Simply that was enough to wake me from my silly fantasy.
Your husband's behavior is not creating clear boundaries - he can be misinterpreted.
Carolyn Hax: Or interpreted correctly, if he's not telling himself/his wife the truth and is in fact receptive. Thanks.
Anonymous: "Nice to me, mean to the waiter"
If this were true, wouldn't she have noticed this before she became part of his inner circle? It seems odd that this is a sudden revelation into a fault of her husband's.
Carolyn Hax: Doesn't seem odd to me at all. They could have started off with his trying to win her over--which is pretty standard, if you think about it. Boy meets Girl at work/party/school, Boy asks for Girl's number, Boy pursues Girl ... and so on, and Girl doesn't really -see- other side of Boy until the courtship/wedding/homemaking/baby excitement is behind her.
Twilight Zone: There's a really negative rumor about me that's being spread around my friends and acquaintances. I know who started it, and I truly believe that this person does actually think the rumor is true. I have tried to explain to her how the miscommunication happened and that what she thinks happened actually did NOT happen, but the rumor-spreader thinks I'm just trying to cover it up. She feels it is her duty to make sure that everyone "knows" this about me and knows who I "really" am. Because she's not one to make up rumors or knowingly lie, everyone seems to be believing her and thinks that I'm just getting defensive because I'm embarrassed or in denial or whatever. Even my close friends don't know what to believe! How do I convince them of the truth without seeming like I'm "getting defensive" or feeling like I'm on trial for something that didn't even happen?? I feel like I'm in the twilight zone!
Carolyn Hax: Wow. I know this is the last thing you want to be, but you're a powerful reminder why people shouldn't get into someone else's business unless their certainty is absolute--and not even then sometimes.
As for what you can do about this, the less you say now, the better. Adopt a few declarative sentences in your defense, such as, "She's mistaken. I have to trust people to see that." Or, "I know the truth, and that's enough for me." Or, "I know she means well, but she's wrong." And then stand tall. It's all you've got.
What she has, on the other hand, is the authorship of a very public campaign to take someone down. In the end, that will catch up to her--people will think twice, for example, about what they tell her. That plus your stoicism will plant and then nurture the seeds of doubt in your favor.
Local resources for fleeing domestic abuse situation...: while I have done some web searches on resources for women would would need help getting out of a domestic violence situation, are there some local sources that are good and solid? Thank you!
Carolyn Hax: I assume you mean local to DC, but just in case you don't, RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) connects you to local providers: 1-800-656-HOPE. DC-ers can try The Women's Center in Vienna, Va (and other locations--www.thewomenscenter.org), or WEAVE (www.weaveincorp.org), or the DC Rape Crisis Center (dcrcc.org), or the standby, 1800-799-SAFE, which is national but refers locally.
Re: Twilight Zone: So, what was the rumor?? Nosy peanuts need to know!
Carolyn Hax: Need!
L.A.: In a recent column you stated of the the things married people can't do is take a vacation whenever they feel like it without consulting their spouse. What about long term relationships? I've been with my boyfriend for 4 years, live together, (and we're legal partners) and he is on a 2 week vacation in an exotic location right now with a guy friend and made a big deal about how I wasn't invited. After I voiced that I was upset his response was he can do whatever he wants. We've never taken a vacation together that was "just us"- always with or to visit friends and family. Am I justified to be irritated by this?
Carolyn Hax: Sure, he can do whatever he wants. But you don't have to like him, trust him, or put up with someone who has zero regard for your feelings. This can't be the first time in four years he has flipped you the bird--can it?
To answer your specific question, if people who are married, or who live together and are even a just-for-now committed couple (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?), want to take a separate vacation, either one of them "can," but the decent thing to do is to say, "I've got this chance to get away with Friend, and I don't want to pass it up." Then you say, "But we've never been away together like that, and it bothers me that you're going to go with a friend despite that." And he (if he has any sense of decency) can say, "You're right, it's not fair, but this trip is a onetime opportunity. How about I go, and we start planning now for another trip with just the two of us."
That's just a ridiculously easy conversation to have. That you and he didn't have it is an alarm going off.
State College: Hi - question about helping a graduating senior feel confident and smart. We saved up money enough for her to go to a public college - about $12,500 per year. Daughter is smart and found B's easy, but we told her if she really tried, she could get A's and a scholarship at a private college. She worked hard but didn't fanatically devote herself to good grades and only got scholarships enough to bring the cost to about twice what we said we'd pay. If we really wanted, we could arrange it to let her go to one of these private colleges (with debt, extra jobs, etc.). But I don't want to - she did what she did and got what she got. She could also get loans, but I don't like that idea. How do I explain this, without it sounding like a punishment? I want her to get a good education, but we are supposed to let teens have natural consequences, right? I feel like I backed myself into a corner by trying to motivate her.
Carolyn Hax: Not necessarily. First of all, it's not as if private colleges are Good while public colleges are Bad (or even mediocre). What you all want here is for to get the best education available, on financial terms that won't bankrupt or exhaust you.
And, your daughter may be under 18 still, or at least a dependent in a very real sense even if she is 18--but she's also on the cusp of adulthood. Is it really for you to decide unilaterally that she can't take out loans for a private college, if the school she wants most happens to be private?
And, too, did her grades falls 50 percent short of truly impressive, or was the scholarship pool more competitive than you could have predicted when you laid down your motivational law?
All these introduce gray areas into the college tuition calculation. If you disagree, see it as black-and-white, and want the consequences to attach, then tell her you can't afford the private tuition with the scholarships she got, and let her choose a public u. Nothing wrong with that.
But if a private college accepts her that you think would be good for her, and that you think she earned, then let her choose whether to take out loans or go public--and, if you want, you can even sweeten it by paying, say, 10 or 20 percent more than you said you would.
If your daughter were a toddler, then you might have a moral obligation and parental responsibility to hold the line on age-appropriate consequences. But your daughter is almost fully raised by now--if you change your mind a little bit, it's not going to spoil her beyond redemption. Do what you think is right. If that involves a slight revision on what you originally intended, then that can teach a lesson of judicious flexibility, which isn't the worst thing a person can learn.
Perky Admirer: I would ask the 40-something guy at his new job exactly what impression he thinks he is making with his new co-workers. Is he earning their respect, or their eye-popping attention? I'm willing to be they don't all agree that he's adorable.
Carolyn Hax: It doesn't even have to be that extreme. They could just be thinking, "Walk away, you fool, walk away."
Vacation Without Partner: "boyfriend" + "legal partner" + "vactioning with male friend" could actually mean that the letter-writer was male, in which case this is more troubling.
Carolyn Hax: I thought of that, but since the letter-writer him- or herself didn't flag that this might be a romantic tryout--which, it seems to me, would be the first concern, not what couples "can" or "can't" do--I figured that wasn't the issue.
Rumormonger: I once worked with a woman who started a horrible rumor about me...that I was dating our (married) boss. I wasn't, and when I heard about it, I went to the boss and told him what she was saying and to everyone she had spread the rumor to. Boy, did that put a stop to the rumor and she had to apologize and almost lost her job.
Carolyn Hax: What a rare, satisfying ending, thanks. Too bad there's no boss to report to in this circle of self-righteous friends.
Sow Your Wild Oats: People read that post and worried that the poster was immature, as opposed to the relatives? SYWO is unbelievably tacky and dated, and implies that all guys should want to have sex outside of a committed relationship. Someone has an immature view here, and it ain't poster.
Also, I'm not sure why this wasn't mentioned, but surely there are as many people who regret their casual encounters as those who look back on them with fondness. Poster may regret not having sex a bunch of girls just because he found them hot (or like Mt Everest, they were there), or he might regret it (and the baby or VD that is a risk of even safe sex).
Carolyn Hax: It wasn't mentioned because, while I agree that the term "sowing your wild oats" is as dated as wide shiny ties (oh, wait ...), the term stands for a lot more than just having a bunch of casual sex encounters. It can also just mean seeing what's out there, seeing how you interact with different kinds of people, having a variety of experiences, living life a bit more. It's a pretty solid suggestion, when taken broadly, because marrying someone doesn't mean closing out the rest of the world. If the rest of the world is going to prove tempting to someone, does that someone want to discover this while still single, or while there's a spouse at home?
This isn't to say that all people in their 20s lack sufficient experience to know that what they want now will be the same as what they want later. It's just that a lot of change happens between ages 15 and 35--which some people go through early, and others go through late. And so people either want to have the self-knowledge to recognize that most of their changing period is behind them when they marry, or they want the foresight/mad luck to choose mates who will change with them.
Washington, D.C.: Carolyn: Big fan of the columns and chats. Quick question about a situation that I (thankfully) having encountered yet.
An old-coworker/friend just recently lost her baby late into her pregnancy (just started 3rd trimester). We aren't great friends, but still keep in touch via email and Facebook. What is appropriate to do in this situation? Just send a card? What to say? I know how excited she was about everything- the last time email we exchanged was about picking out names and furniture. I don't want to down play the situation, but I don't want to say the wrong thing. Thoughts?
Carolyn Hax: Oh, no. Send a card to say you're sorry for her loss. This is a devastating thing that happened to her, and she'll need people to recognize it as such. The only other possibility is that she's in the very very minuscule population of women who can shake this off and not look back--and it's not as if a card would be the wrong thing in that case.
Just a caveat: Stay away from phrases such as, "It was meant to be," or, "You can always try again," or "It's for the best"--all of which have been used plenty in these situations, and which are almost universally cited by grieving parents as unwelcome and even offensive. Even "God's will" is in that category, unless you know the mother to be devout. Stick to, "I'm sorry for your loss," because you are, and it was.
Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, this is for the mom who is struggling with her daughter's college decision. At that point in my life, my parents told me they had X amount saved per year for college for me. I was welcome to all of it, but if I wanted to go to a school that cost more, I would have to pay it. No pressure, no opinions, just fact. I appreciated it then and do so even more now. I chose public school, just FYI, because I didn't want the loans.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks. A couple of others coming:
Paying for College: Many private colleges will also offer grants that pay for a portion of the tuition. I have loans from my college days, and I don't see any problem with having them and paying them. If nothing else, it's a good lesson in modern society to start off life owing, and it's better to owe for an education than it is a credit card debt! Let her decide what schools she likes the look of, and see who accepts her, then make all the hard financial decisions.
Carolyn Hax: And:
Public or Private Option?: No, not health care. There are plenty of public universities that are way better than most private colleges. What private colleges generally give are smaller classes and smaller campuses, good for shy girl from small town. Or worried parent afraid of BigU. If you compare salaries from private versus public colleges (except those Ivy League schools) there is not a difference. My advice would be to advise her on the cost of student loans and paying them back, compared to any potential change in future salary. Big freshman classes are not "bad" for students. If mom wants to help out a little more with the cost of private school, there should be GPA requirements. "I'll only help you if you meet 3.5 GPA."
Carolyn Hax: Thanks everybody.
About Student Loans: It's not necessarily bad for your daughter to get student loans. She'll be paying for a part of her education, which may motivate her to do better.
Carolyn Hax: Oop, forgot this one. Thanks again.
Annapolis, Md.: My husband and I got married very young. We were so in love and it just seemed so right. Fast forward four years and we're growing apart. I don't know how to pull the trigger. My husband can be and admits to being degrading, unhelpful, and a butt-hole. I do everything around the house and go to school full-time and work full-time. My husband says he knows I'll divorce him one day and says it's fine. What am I doing?
Carolyn Hax: I don't know. Maybe if you try to explain it to us, something will click into place.
London, U.K.: Hello, I can't seem to get over an ex. I'm engaged to a great person, but I still dream/think about my ex often. I left him over 3 years ago, but regret it now. I don't feel the same "spark" with my current fiance. How can I let go of the past and be happy with the sweet, honest, loving person I'm with now?
Carolyn Hax: "Hello, I can't seem to get over an ex. I'm engaged to a great person, but I still dream/think about my ex often. I left her over 3 years ago, but regret it now. I don't feel the same 'spark' with my current fiancee. How can I let go of the past and be happy with the sweet, honest, loving person I'm with now?"
This is your fiance, trying to talk himself into loving you. Is this a marriage you want?
Carolyn Hax: yes, I assumed this was a male-female couple. Necessary for the twist.
Arlington, Va.: Doorways for Women and Families in Arlington is another excellent domestic violence resource: www.doorwaysva.org or (703) 237-0881 24-hour hotline
Carolyn Hax: I don't know of it, but will post for others to vet. Thanks.
Marrying Young: Oh, I wish everyone who is thinking about marrying young would read that letter. Marriage is a whole lot more difficult than young love. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had married my first few boyfriends, all of whom I thought was "the one" for a period of time. Add a kid or two to the mix of marrying young and you've got a real potential disaster on your hands. It can be so sad!
Carolyn Hax: The problem is actually broader than youth--it's marrying someone before you're sure it's a lasting compatibility vs. a passing attraction. It's a mistake older couples make, too, though I think it tends to be more common among younger ones, what with the newness of the sensations, the lack of general experience, and the relative absence of skepticism.
Re: State College: It was potentially unrealistic of you to tell your daughter that getting A's was all she needed to get a scholarship to a private university. Many of them only offer full academic scholarships to those from under- represented minority groups or those with extreme financial need (and even that is usually loans, not grants). I didn't have straight-A's and a 1600, but I did have a 3.9 unweighted GPA and a 1510 on the SAT (including a perfect verbal score), and I wasn't offered anything beyond $600 to help pay for books my freshman year.
You need to decide if it's more important that she go to the best school, or the one that you can afford the easiest, and not pile all the responsibility on her if you gave her an unrealistic expectation.
Carolyn Hax: This was what I was getting at with the "grades 50 percent short of truly impressive" bit, but this explains it more fully and accurately, thanks.
The amount of financial pain to which the parents subject themselves should reflect what they're willing to take on, period. If that willingness has some play in it, then the daughter's work ethic is what should motivate extra parental sacrifice, not the grades themselves or even the amount of scholarship money they drew.
Reston: What about those who are "nice to waiters, but mean to inner circle"?
Not making this up actually.
Carolyn Hax: Never occurred to me that you would be. That's classic narcissist behavior--make sure the whole world thinks you're awesome, which makes the whole world a very lonely place for the spouse/kids you treat like dirt, because no one believes them when they say you're a bad person.
So, what about people who do this? Get away from them. If that's not possible, then find a lifeline--someone to talk to who will believe you.
Rockville, Md.: Gotta put a plug in here for young love. Married my first boyfriend, still together after 13 years, have 2 kids, have been through TONS of ups and really down downs, and he's still the love of my life and I of his. It's the people, not the timing. No absolutes apply to everyone.
Carolyn Hax: Then it's a plug for love, no, and not for young love? Just as the mistake is not one of marrying young, but of marrying too quickly?
For the Coworker Whose Baby Died: (Carolyn, please post this because this topic has come up before, and I've never seen this reference in your chat)
You can always read Deborah L. Davis, Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of your Baby. This is an excellent, word-perfect, tone-perfect book. It will tell you what is really going on with your coworker, and will help you know how to respond.
Also, Carolyn, I myself lost a baby very late, and I really doubt there are any women out there who shrug this off. It's a death in the family where no one wants to talk about it and no one even has memories of the deceased, so the grief is real but there is no way to focus it. Forgive me but... shrug off? Really? Are you sure?
Carolyn Hax: I have seen other mentions of this book, so I'm happy to post it, thanks.
And I tried to qualify my comment carefully, with the word "minuscule." But I can only type what I know, which is that I do occasionally get a question from someone who is not devastated by a pregnancy loss. Often the issue is a fear of being abnormal, or even vilified by others for not having a level of grief others expect. So, I felt it important to acknowledge that no one can assume how the mother feels--we can only go on what she is most likely to be feeling.
London Calling: If you're actually married with a child now, and you're having those feelings, is therapy the only way out?
Carolyn Hax: Not necessarily. The power of conscious choice can be significant. If you lay out your various options in your mind, and be very honest about their implications, then it's possible you'll find that you're exactly where you want to be, given the alternatives. When you get to that point, it's only one step further to throw yourself fully into that choice. Doesn't work for everyone, but it is something everyone with doubts should try.
Re: State College: OK so maybe I'm just grumpy but don't kids work to help pay for college anymore? I paid my own way, as did many others I knew, does this not come into the equation now? Now get off my lawn!
Carolyn Hax: Nice! I think work study is still a factor, but less of one given how much tuitions have gone up and wages haven't. But I'm get-off-my-lawn age, too, so what do I know.
Carolyn Hax: I do know I have to go. Buh-bye, thanks, and type to you here next week.
In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. 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.
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