Carolyn Hax Live: 'A' suck hole of all joy and fun, not 'THE' suck hole of all joy and fun (Feb. 26)

Feb 26, 2016

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody. Sorry about the back-to-back absences; that was only 50 percent planned.

Sorry, Caroline. We disagree o this one. Her parents are shelling out around $100,000 per year for her to attend a private liberal arts college. If this doesn't give them some say in her body art, what does? I'll bet if she had to take a semester off or transfer to her local community college she'd come around to their way of thinking PDQ.

Thanks for writing in.

They have that say, of course. I was merely noting it would be short-sighted of them to use it. Making tuition their leverage to control their daughter will cost them far more in their relationship with her than the tattoos will cost the daughter socially/professionally/whatever. Which is supposedly the mother's concern.



And it's CarolYn, with a y. As at the top of the page ^^^

Sister In Law is an entrepreneur running a few different gigs simultaneously. One is a service that our family would like to utilize. It's an industry where costs are driven more by market demands and artistic expertise, not by cost of materials or extensive time/labor. I feel an unspoken family obligation to use her services vs another of the many local businesses providing comparable services. On the other hand, when I asked her about it, she sent me her very standard business form letter and pricing info, with no "family discount" or special treatment since we are family. We have done a lot for this SIL and her family in the past few years, some financial and some just generosity of time and hosting. My partner is really upset that we are being treated like any other potential client, and believes this gives us permission to take our business elsewhere. I feel like this will create an unnecessary family rift, but at the same time feel a bit stuck in just having to accept the terms of SIL's business contract without the opportunity to consider other options. What are your thoughts?

A few thoughts.

-Discounts are nice, but can't be expected, even from relatives for whom you think you are doing a favor.

-You look at yourself as one person hoping for/expecting one discount. From the perspective of the business people, it often looks like every person they ever ran into at the grocery store expecting them to reduce their profits because they share that special express-lane connection. Just for grins, ask a professional photographer sometime how often they get asked to work for free or close to it because what's the big deal, it's just hitting a button. (Which of course it isn't, not even close.)

-Maybe she will reduce her fees in the end, just later on in the process. 

-If I were advising this SIL, I would probably say to offer even a small discount, especially in light of any recent help directed toward her family by yours. But since she didn't ask me, I can only advise you, which means giving possible reasons she's sticking to her price list.

-It also means advising you to hire her, just this once, at full price. You started it, and it best serves family harmony now to finish it.

-And finally, your experience is another notch in the keep-family-and-business-separate column. You either have to be ready for the business to get personal and still not take it personally, or stay away altogether.

Hi, Carolyn... I was recently offered a job that pays substantially more than I make now. I'm overqualified but generally happy where I am... I wasn't looking, the offer sort of fell in my lap. Though tempting in some ways -- well, really just financially: we could really use the money right now -- the thought made me miserable. After much soul searching and discussion with my husband, I turned it down. He is now livid. So seething angry months later that we still can't have a civil discussion about it. There are lots of under the breath comments and bitter sarcastic remarks about me choosing my personal happiness over something that would have helped our family unit. We're not destitute, bills are being paid, but we're not keeping pace with our friends right now. Every time a bill comes in the mail or we have an invite to dinner he gets mad all over again. I'm starting to feel resentful that he's so willing to trade my happiness for a few extra bucks, but I also feel guilty. Any thoughts on how we move past this?

This is so bad, and you're so far apart, and so far from communicating fully and civilly about it, that I don't see any realistic options besides bringing this to a very good marriage counselor. I'm sorry.

For what it's worth, he's behaving abominally. Even if we stipulate to his having rock-solid grounds to be angry, this is a horrible way to manage that anger. Any loved one/partner/neighbor/anyone owes it to the other person to figure out what it would take, within the bounds of morality and the law of course, to get past the anger, and then start taking those steps. His way commits you both to being stuck and miserable--or, I should say, it commits him to that, and limits your choices to either that or leaving him. Bad stuff for you both.

He might not even agree to seeking help--I can just hear him saying no because you can't afford it--but a situation this bad suggests you should go without him if necessary. 

Last thing--your subject line suggests that reversing yourself and taking the job is one of your options still. That might be the Band-aid that gets the healing started, but it's a stretch to me; you will never forget that this is how he responded to your decision, which brings your marriage not back to where it was, but instead to some other place you probably can't fully envision from here. Raise or no raise, the anger is now the thing.

Mom is worried about daughter changing her mind-- but parents can change their minds too! My parents were very unhappy at my first tattoo. A few years later, my dad surprised us with his own! Then we all got matching family tattoos, and went on a family trip to the tattoo parlor for a couple more.

Tell me you all got Mom on your biceps, even Mom.

This is really starting to wear my heart down. My son is 10 months old and for the last five months, he desperately prefers his dad/my husband to me. Before that he showed no preference. When Dad enters the room he lunges for him. When Dad hands him to me or steps out of the room, Baby sobs, sometimes gasping for air, choking he's crying so hard. I really try not to take it personally but it is getting hard. We both work full-time. Dad usually drops him off at daycare and Baby sobs, but the rare time I do it, Baby doesn't give me a second glance. Now that he's sleeping through the night, my husband and I spend about the same amount of time with the baby (I used to do 100% of the night duty). Dad does the mornings, mostly, and I do the evenings. When Baby cries about Dad leaving or handing him to me, we usually don't "indulge" since Dad is leaving, etc., for a reason. Is this really normal? It won't go on forever, right? How should we deal with it when it's happening? And how can I stop feeling so sad? I am genuinely thrilled that they have such a wonderful relationship, and I don't do anything to take away from that. I sometimes have a hard time not reacting sadly in the moment but mostly I stay very cheerful and positive.

It's really normal, it won't go on forever, and you're already dealing with it exactly as I would have advised by not "indulging" and by trying to stay cheerful and positive.

Anything that fills your heart has the power to smash it to bits. Welcome to parenthood.

My husband and I were eating at a bar, and a woman was eating alone on the barstool next to his. The three of us talked about the surprise free dessert someone else was being given for his birthday. The woman said, "no fair - I'll be out of town on my birthday and can't get the dessert".. My husband asked where she'd be, and she answered that she'd be fulfilling a bucket list item - swimming with sharks in Australia. My husband answered; "you're going to love that- I've done it twice!" The woman said "really? Wow!". Carolyn, my husband hasn't been near Australia or a shark - ever. He thought it was funny. He's normally a really sincere, compassionate guy - though with a tendency to occasionally enjoy "stirring the pot" and getting people a bit agitated. Should I be worried about this?

Maybe I'm not the best to ask, because when I got to the part about his making it up, I actually laughed.

And because a world without practitioners of whimsy is one I don't want to live in ... as long as no one winds up looking or feeling stupid. If that's what you mean by "agitated," then I'll revisit, especially if the pot-stirring affects you and your marriage in other ways.

Anyone else have a less charitable opinion?

My son is also 10 months old, and tends to be in a way better mood in the mornings v. evenings - any way you could trade with your husband to get some of that morning time? And we've also experienced favoritism both ways - now my son wants me, but for a while he wanted my husband.

You could also mention to her that you are still in the process of researching/gathering information/getting quotes, and then actually get quotes from other providers. Your SIL is treating it as a normal business transaction, so take your cue from her and do what you would do if she were not related to you.

In a couple of months I will be attending a memorial service for a family member. Also attending this event will be my brother. I am a recovering alcoholic (2+ years sober) but almost 3 years ago my brother told me that because of my alcoholism he does not want me around him or his family and hasn’t spoken to me since. I’ve worked very hard to get and remain sober and to make amends to the people in my life that I injured with my addiction. Attempts to reconnect with my brother have been met with silence. But honestly, being cut off from him has been a bit of a blessing because he has always been judgmental and has a history of cutting people out of his life if he disagrees with them. That’s more drama than I really need or want in my life. The funeral is for our grandfather (our mother’s father) and losing her last remaining parent has been kind of hard for our mother. I worry that the stress of my estrangement with my brother (which she knows about) is going to very painful for her to be around. I offered to stay home to avoid an issue but my mom won’t hear of it. I am not sure if she’s going to try to force us to interact in an effort to make a reconciliation happen. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. My inclination at this point is to treat my brother civilly but coolly. One thing I have learned in my recovery is that I have zero control over how other people act/react. It feels like the best course of action for me but would like a sanity check…. Should I be doing more? If I do, it would be for my mother sake and for the sake of appearances.

"My inclination at this point is to treat my brother civilly but coolly. One thing I have learned in my recovery is that I have zero control over how other people act/react."

This sounds good to me, with one tweak--there's no need to treat him "coolly." Instead I would shoot for the closest thing to utter neutrality that you can summon, as if you were meeting a total stranger. You'd smile, right? So do that. Do it for yourself more than anything--it's akin to your past attempts to reconnect with him, after all--without, as you say, any expectation that your brother will respond in kind.

As a professional in the photo/video industry, if I were to not extend a discount to a family member, it would be my way of saying "hire somebody else" (or at least consider it). Working with family often adds pressure or expectations (like discounts, faster delivery, or other preferential treatment). From where I sit, not offering a discount has less to do with the actual money involved as it does in maintaining her professional standards--and it gives you the right to weigh your options the same way any potential client would.

Useful perspective, thanks.

"bitter sarcastic remarks about me choosing my personal happiness over something that would have helped our family unit". Whoa whoa whoa. He thinks it is not ok for you to prioritize your personal happiness, but it is ok for him to prioritize his personal happiness to the extent that you are expected to trade your misery for it? That's frankly scary. Spouses are supposed to care about the others' personal happiness. Egads. Did he communicate his strong feelings in the discussions you had about it? That he is this angry **for months** about a decision that was evidently a mutual one is just outrageous. Bacon pants for this husband.

My fiancé, “Shelly”, and I have been engaged since Thanksgiving and are being married in the fall. We are planning our wedding which she is mostly paying for since as she makes over twice what I do. The issue is, I’m starting to have a real problem with how much we’re spending. When the plans were first made, it sounded great - we’re only having about 75 people and the reception will be at her folks’ beach house so you’d think, pretty cheap, right? Absolutely not! The tent, the chairs, tables, band, food (pre-wedding hors d’oeuvres, post-wedding feast, midnight buffet even!), booze, flowers and so on and we’re looking at over $25k! And that’s not including her dress, invitations – well, you get the picture. I haven’t said much because, as I said, it’s mainly her money - yet the staggering (to me) cost is starting to overwhelm things. To be clear – I am NOT getting cold feet, I’d happily marry Shelly tomorrow at the courthouse but that’s not what we agreed on and really, I’d like a nice wedding with our friends and family around us. I’m just not sure it should cost this much and I’m left wondering – should I tell Shelly I’d like to dial things back a bit? Is it even reasonable to try to spend less than this? Shelly doesn’t seem to think so but I know my sister’s wedding for twice as many people didn’t cost half as much. I’m not sure how to approach the subject without seeming like a spoilsport or like I’m trying to tell Shelly how she can spend her own money.

Would you and Shelly please have a conversation about money--including a discussion of yours/mine/ours, of priorities, of privacy, of budgeting and expenses and percentages saved for the future? You write this whole question as a bystander, presumably because she makes more and because your accounts are not yet merged, but even then--if we take it as a black-and-white calculation (which I argue it isn't) her making twice what you do means she has 66.6 percent say to your 33.4 over the wedding and the soon-to-be marital assets, not 100 percent to 0. 

One way to open it is with, "I was comfortable letting the wedding be your show, because it's your money and you obviously want this to be a nice party--and I'm grateful for your effort. It has shown me, though, that you're comfortable with a different level of spending than I am, so I'm thinking we should talk about how this might affect us after we're married."

There are a bunch of books on how couples can talk about and reconcile different attitudes toward money--my colleague Michelle Singletary writes about this extensively (LINK), including her own books and recommendations of others.  

I do have a much more unfavorable opinion. I wonder what it was like for the OP to (for the first time it seems) see her husband blatantly and easily lie. It can be disconcerting to see someone you trust do something dishonest and can make you wonder what else he lies about if he is able to do it with such ease. It also puts the OP in a very awkward situation--lie to back up her husband, awkwardly stay silent, or out him. In this case it may not have been a big deal but she could find herself having to smile uncomfortably when the neighbor starts asks her about her non-existent trip to Alaska. I could be overreacting, I grew up with a true pathological liar for a father, but trust is something that can break in seconds and take years to build or rebuild. Someone who treats honesty casually is generally someone that is not trustworthy and it almost concerns me MORE that it's about something little. I think everyone can identify with the desire to lie about the big shameful things, but when someone starts lying when there is no benefit, "necessity", or even reason, every red flag I own starts waving!

Fair point, thank you. 

The one issue I have with your issue is that I believe there has to be flexibility here. By this standard no one could trust an actor, for example, because the ability to perform would put all exchanges under a cloud of suspicion--and I don't think that's the case or even fair. Context is important. I think an understanding of someone's character can override the fact of the ability to lie as a measure of trustworthiness. Thus leaving room not to excuse someone who lies as your father did.

As for being uncomfortable when the spouse does this, I vote for jolly outing--saying out loud, lightly, that the bar friend can't listen to Mr. Shark because he's completely full of it and has never even been to Australia. 


I work in a cancer center so to me fufilling a bucket list item signals a serious health problem. I hope she never found out he was lying as my guess is that would have been hurtful.

Personally, I hate it when people make stuff up just to mess with other people. What's the point? To get a laugh at someone else's expense? Even if you're not making the person look foolish outright, you're purposely deceiving someone else, which means you're playing them for a fool. You know that you're lying, but they don't - wink, wink, ha ha. I get that in this case, it's not a huge deal, but I could never be with someone who messes with other people for entertainment. I think it says something about how they view themselves in relation to other people, as if other people don't deserve their honesty and respect. I just don't understand what's wrong with investing in the conversation by asking the woman what about that appeals to her or what else she plans to do in Australia, or even sharing a true story about an adventure I have had. Then again, people probably find me way too earnest, so take it for what it's worth.

I didn't laugh but I don't think it's problematic. You didn't know the woman he told and nothing was said that could hurt anyone so I'd just let it go.

I am the brother in this situation! I agree with her plan, but yikes, still coming across as the victim? My sister is an alcoholic and the years of torment we went through has not gone away. You are sorry and you want to make amends, but that is to make you feel better. Your brother telling you that he doesn't want to do what you want him to do, right now or maybe ever, some how makes him judgmental? The plan is to again make him the bad guy and stay away from the funeral, because he isn't ready to have a relationship with you on your terms? Follow Carolyn's advice and go, but have a reality check on how you are thinking about it. Sincerely, One of the judgmental sibs of the world

If the family is not keeping pace at the rate husband thinks is acceptable, he is free to search for a new job where he will make more money. The onus should not just be on one partner.

Hi Carolyn, Is it terrible if I'm not overly fond of my partner's kids? We are planning on getting married one day, but I assume we will do this after some of the kids have grown up and moved out. There are just too many kids between the both of us (prior marriages) for us to live together until some do move out.

Of course it's okay not to like them--you feel what you feel. But it's not okay to act like you don't like them; it's not okay to badmouth them or get between them and your partner; it's not okay to make plans as if they'll go away after they grow up, because you never know what they might end up needing and what you might eventually need from them; it's not okay to quit trying to like them as long as you're with their parent; it's not okay to see your partner as anything but a package deal with the kids. 

It is okay, too, to decide your disliking the kids makes you a less-than-ideal match for your partner. Marry your partner and you will have some dealings with these kids for the rest of your partner's life, at a minimum, with the likelihood of the heaviest exposure when your partner is most vulnerable. Are you sure you're up to it? I suggest you be sure.

How young is too young? I'm nearing 40 and recently single (no kids yet). I've been asked out separately on dates by two guys who are in the mid-late 20's. Too young?  I feel somewhat more compatible with the younger men (at least 4-5 years younger) in part because I don't have kids yet (but still would like at least one, if possible). I've found that a lot of the men my age (or older) are already settled: Have kids (sometimes already grown).

As long as they're over 21, date for companionship and pay attention--not to generalities, but to the person on the date with you. That includes everyone from the mid-20s people to the already-have-grown-kids people. You really can't lose by valuing individual over category, a favor you presumably hope these men will return. Good luck.

Dear Carolyn: This past summer I ended things with my boyfriend of four years. We had spent the last year dating long distance (after each starting college in different countries). I don’t believe we would have broken up had we stayed in the same city. The problem was not in the person, but in the debilitating and uncontrollable divide of distance. I initiated the breakup but he told be he respected my decision and wanted to remain friends. We’ve gotten a meal twice, once at the end of the summer and once over winter break. Each time I have initiated, each time he has been warmly receptive and we’ve had good conversations, and each time he has agreed we should talk more. He’s now seeing someone else, and will be studying abroad in the summer and fall. I will not be in the same city as him in any foreseeable future, so any contact would have to be virtual. We talked every day for four years and he was my best friend…I don’t want to lose him completely. He has never initiated contact, and even though it’s been a long time since our breakup, I don’t want to bother him if he’s not interested. But how do I know if he wants to stay in touch (and perhaps is just not good at initiating) or if I should keep my distance? And how does one go about maintaining ties with someone they deeply loved after that relationship has ended, while still respecting the fact that we are no long together? -Trying to Read the Signs

May I suggest a radical change of perspective? You're looking at him and trying to read your next move, but the person you need to be reading is you.

*What do you want?* Do you miss him and want to hear his voice? Do you want to remain on his emotional radar? Do you not want to have to face the prospect of nothing after four years of everything? 

And next: Is what you're doing accomplishing what you want? Do you feel better for getting in touch with him? Are you happy with where you are now, with respect to getting over him? Or do you think of him as unfinished business that these friendly meals have not managed to resolve? Or do you regret initiating the breakup and his accepting it so smoothly is now a source of torment?

There will be an answer in here for you somewhere--be it to cut ties entirely, or keep calling him every few months, or admit your true feelings to him, or ___--but the only way to find it is to stop trying to" read the signs" and just be honest with yourself. The actions you take from that place of honesty will make inherent sense to you the way your tentative contacts to this point have not. 

He will, of course, respond to them as he feels is appropriate. But even if it's not a response you had hoped for, it'll be more satisfying for the transparency you bring to the whole exchange.

You see you're making assumptions and being judgmental. She might be doing it for , she might not. My husband is 12 years sober, I'm not an alcoholic but I know quite a few and have been to many AA meetings. Yes, what people do when active alcoholics can be very damaging - that's why there's step 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. and 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Her brother might not be ready to forgive her, of course. And sure some people want forgiveness for themselves. Why are you assuming selfish motives?

Fine, but can't you put this aside for one afternoon? Being there for your mother in her grief should have nothing to do with your relationship with your sister. Both siblings need to focus on making this occasion about their mother and not about themselves.

This particular instance seems to be merely a fun conversation with a stranger, but in general, people who like to "stir the pot" and get people all "agitated" are jerks. I simply see no point in purposefully getting people upset in order to entertain yourself. The wife doesn't seem to like it either because this time he stirred the pot with HER by making up something she knew was a lie. And look, she's all agitated about it. Mission accomplished. Actually, now that I think about it, I don't think that was a nice thing for him to do. The woman was all excited about her trip and he one-upped her by saying he did it not once, but twice, for no reason.

Alas, you've converted me--I will have to find kinder spirited whimsy to amuse me.

It's kind of like in the best movie ever, "Fantastic Mr. Fox": Charm and thrill-seeking make for an entertaining story but, as my kid pointed out to me about a week ago, for 98 percent of the movie Foxy is a jerk. Thanks everybody for flicking the devil off my shoulder. 


Though this next one gives me hope for the loopiness of mankind:

The OP's husband has indeed swum with sharks in Australia - his offhand remark in a restaurant is the thread that will unravel a whole sweater of a secret, James Bond-esque life. The novel practically writes itself.

The one thing the OP didn't say was if her husband liked his job. He may be "gritting his teeth and taking more money" because he feels like the family needs it or he feels overwhelmed with the bills. I can imagine him getting angry because he is working a job he doesn't like and he doesn't get a choice to choose a lower paying one for better job fulfillment. If the family needs more money, then she could start looking for a higher paying job doing the same thing. It's easier to find work when you have a job and a job change might also give you a raise.

Ooh good angle, thanks.

Though his anger management skills still need a top-to-bottom redo.

Hi Carolyn! I've been dating a great guy for the past year. We met shortly after he filed for divorce, so we tried to keep things casual until it was finalized. We weren't terribly successful at keeping our feelings in check, though, and for a couple of weeks last spring, we broke up. He told me that our relationship had become more serious than he planned, and suggested seeing other people. I wouldn't agree to staying together and seeing other people, and we broke up. However, after some time apart, he somewhat sheepishly asked to get back together.  To my happy surprise, he wanted to make our relationship more serious. He told his family and ex that he was dating someone, I met his children, we spent the holidays together, and made plans for summer travel together. Last week, he had another freak-out about how serious our relationship had become, even though he is the one who pushed it forward. He once again raised the specter of seeing other people. Almost immediately, he told me he regretted the conversation, and that he didn't really mean what he'd said. We'd been talking late at night, he'd had some drinks, and was upset about some other issues not related to me. I wasn't so ready to sweep this under the rug, however, so we have been taking some time while he is traveling for business to think things through. Carolyn, I don't want to break up with him. Although he has some baggage, he is a good man, smart and affectionate, and an incredible dad to his kids. I'm considering opening up the possibility of seeing other people, while staying together. He has clarified that he doesn't want to sleep with anyone else, but that after being with the same woman for 20 years, he just wants to feel free to date. I hate the idea, but it might be good for me, too. He is the only man I've dated since moving to this town a couple of years ago, and after this most recent drama, I feel I may be too emotionally invested in the relationship. Advice from friends runs the gamut. One of them thinks that his desire to see other people devalues our relationship, and I should just end things. Another friend thinks I should let go of the issue, and not worry about something that hasn't happened and he says he didn't even mean. Other friends think seeing other people, with parameters that we can both agree on, is a good idea. I would love to hear what you, an impartial and very wise observer, would advise. Thanks for all the columns and chats!

Thanks for the kind words.

I'm wondering whether you're up for--and temperamentally suited to--a relationship where you just see where things go? 

You offer the three possibilities, to end things or let go of the issue or date other people, and they all seem so ... decisive. Which isn't a bad thing unto itself, but you're seeing someone who is going through a bumpy emotional process, which is not conducive to decisiveness, as you've witnessed. So my suggestion is that if you don't need decisiveness yourself for whatever reason (want to settle down, want to have children within a fertility window, aren't good at taking things day-by-day, etc. and all valid), then shift into neutral and see where things go. Let him have space when he seems to need it. Enjoy him when he's feeling particularly unconflicted. Get comfortable enough doing your own thing that you aren't waiting by the phone. (Hm--need a new expression for that.)

It may feel as if this is surrendering the reins to him, but it's possible for this approach to be quite empowering: You like him, you enjoy him, you understand he has his own stuff to get through, your personal boat is big and stable enough not to be swamped by his waves. 

Again--nothing wrong with not being up to this, but it's worth asking yourself if you are.


I am also planning a wedding for the fall and I am shocked, horrified, stunned at how much it costs to do so. We have chosen a free venue for the ceremony and a park for the reception, downscaled lunch buffet for the food, no band, a friend is doing the ceremony, another is doing the photos, and we are still - STILL - looking at $15,000+. We go over the budget together and make decisions and I am gobsmacked at it all. So $25,000+ - while it is bat crazy - isn't that out of line with what I have seen. In sum - talk to her. But at this point, I don't think she is even close to a bridezilla when it comes to cost. (And stay off Pintrest - that place is a suck hole of all joy and fun.)

I'm glad you said *A* suck hole of all joy and fun, and not *THE* suck hole of all joy and fun, because I was going to be hurt to see this chat lose that distinction.

I also appreciate your take--I was actually thinking too that some couples would see 25K as a happy cost outcome, especially those trying to hold any sort of large catered event in an expensive metropolitan area, and so the suggestion to approach it with an open mind is a good one.


And with that--I'm outta here. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend, and hope to see you here next week.

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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