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Friendship flipping-flopping, how to balance it?
May 25, 2014 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Kind of complicated, more under the fold. Just not sure what to do about a seemingly deprecating friendship.

So, this is a situation I'm having with my good friend, Amber. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong, if anything, or if I'm dialing my expectations way too high, but I'm at a point where I really don't know the best step to navigate.

Amber and I have been friends for almost 10 years now. I met her at university, and we've had a bit of a on-and-off, love-hate friendship, but for the last year or so, we've been extremely stable in our friendship. I've noticed a lot of improvement in the friendship up to now - she has made much more of an effort to get together with me, check on me and see how I'm doing, and we've done normal friend stuff such as birthdays, New Year Eve celebrations, and so forth. She has truly improved a lot compared to what our friendship was like 2 years ago and past that. I actually posted about this same Amber two years ago, if you're interested in the back history of the friendship - but I assure you she has improved TREMENDOUSLY since that time (and her girlfriend has NOT used me since then, and apologized as well).

Lately, things has changed, and not for the better. She has became very unreachable, flaky in communication (text), and just generally incommunicado. She asked me to help her with planning her girlfriend's birthday, and a few plans to get together and plan it fell through. She has been less talkative, too.

I finally talked to her on Friday, asking her what was wrong and if it was me, and sharing my frustration with her lack of responses, while clarifying that I understand she's busy, but that I did notice a change in the tremor of our friendship. She assured me it wasn't me, it was just her, that she was very busy lately and a bit overwhelmed with things going on with her life. Which is understandable, considering she has six pets, a daytime job as a teacher's assistant, etc., but she was reachable and seemed to make me one of her priorities up to about a month ago - and the circumstances didn't change in the past month. I saw her Facebook/IG's with pictures of her going out with other friends, so it wasn't fully just her being too busy. Anyway, on Friday, she assured me that it was definitely not me, and even asked if I wanted to get together this weekend, for a BBQ, perhaps? Of course I did, so I let her know.

What makes this situation a bit more complicated is that her best friend - let's call her Wendy - is moving into town and is living with Amber for a month or so. In February, Wendy visited Amber for two weeks. At that time, Amber didn't see Wendy for two years, so I understood when Amber focused completely on Wendy and kind of ignored me in the process, because... hello - best friend, two years time span... it's normal. When Wendy left, Amber returned back to normal. Now, Wendy is baaaaack in town - she arrived yesterday (Saturday), and despite me sharing my concern with Amber that she would focus on Wendy completely and 'forget' about me, and Amber assuring me that wouldn't happen, it seems to have happened.

The BBQ "plan" for tomorrow fell through, apparently. I texted Amber and asked her about the BBQ, suggesting a BBQ at my house, and offered to pitch in with chips. She didn't respond for 3 hours, and when I followed up, she responded quickly and said she wasn't sure, because she was going to the lake with another friend tomorrow. I asked her what time she would let me know, so I could be prepared, but she didn't respond to that. I feel hurt that she didn't reply until I had to be the bad guy/annoying one and follow up, then seemingly has other plans. How about me? And predictably so, she has been very short with texts, too. I mean, Wendy will be living in town, too - she has all the time in the world for Wendy, too.

I just am not sure what to do. A few other factors that is making this so hard for me to navigate is:

-We're all Deaf. The Deaf community in DC has reduced somewhat for the summer due to people going away, etc.
-I don't have many other friends, so unfortunately, Amber has kind of been my "go-to" source for friendship. I know this is bad on my part, but it's also difficult making friends when you're 28 and Deaf.
-I guess I feel very attached to Amber for some reason. It's very hard to explain, but I guess it's the equivalent to a "friend-crush" - but not at all physical (she's lesbian, I'm gay). I feel very attached and excited when I get a text from her, to the point where I feel guilty and needy. I don't know WHY it's happening, and if possible, advise me on good ideas/strategies on how to 'detach' or 'unattach' myself.
-I've been told I'm needy many times in the past. I'm trying to improve this, but it's hard when you're lonely, love to socialize and talk with people, and want that interaction/simulation. I'm not sure if I come across as needy now.

I know this was long, my apologies if so. This is driving me crazy, and I don't know why I'm so damn attached, and how to disenage/lower my expectations. I'm not even sure if it's something I did wrong, or if it's just her, or if the friendship is fake, or whatever. Cooler heads prevail, hmm? It's nice to have an outside perspective on this.
posted by dubious_dude to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your expectations seem high. You were upset that she didn't respond to a text for 3 hours? Many people forget to respond to their texts for 3 days. Some people forget to respond at all to some of their texts. Tracking her movements and FB posts and then getting upset with her for prioritizing other things above you is quite demanding.

You seem to be excusing your behavior. You say "I know it's bad for me to make Amber my go-to, but ... it's hard when you're deaf." Amber is deaf and she seems to have more than one friend, so clearly deafness does not doom a person to have only 1 friend.

You then said you're trying to improve your neediness, but it's hard because you're lonely and love to socialize. Many many people in this world are lonely and love to socialize. That does not give you a free pass to keep being needy.

I suggest you change your mentality. Instead of saying "I know I should change X, but ... I'm deaf / lonely / want socializing", be very committed to improving those things with no excuses. Read books, join groups, see a therapist, do whatever it takes.

Right now, it sounds like you expect Amber to be The Best Friend Ever (e.g. accept your needy demands), but you only want to be a mediocre friend back (be jealous & needy). Why the double standard?
posted by cheesecake at 7:57 PM on May 25 [8 favorites]


I feel kind of silly saying this, but something that helped me was reading about attachment theory. You would be described as anxiously attached, meaning you confuse heightened negative emotions with love. The book I read was called something like Attached: The New Science of Attachment Theory. It all might be hooha, as I could never figure out what category I was in, but it got me thinking about why I attach to certain people and offered reasons for different behaviors. Plus, it'll keep you busy for awhile, so you can forget about her!
posted by amodelcitizen at 7:59 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Not to threadsit, but cheesecake, you're right that some people don't reply to texts. However, I am not tracking her movements. I just happened to see her IG/FB updates on respective feeds. Also, I have been more than a mediocre friend to her - I've helped her a lot over the years, with her homework/computer problems, and I've always been there for her when she needed support. I would find it an insult from her that I am being an alleged mediocre friend. I appreciate you taking the time to give your thoughts, and some of them are right/valid, but me being a mediocre friend... she has repeatedly told me how much she appreciates my friendship and what I've done for her over the years.

Also, to clarify, what I meant by being Deaf/needy/lonely is not an excuse. I'm saying that, as I'm Deaf, it's harder for me to make friends due to communication barriers, and the Deaf community is a small community. It's not an excuse, it's just reality. That's why it's hard for me to get out of the self-fulfilling prophecy of being needy, because my options are limited. It's not an excuse.

That said, I'm definitely not trying to deflect advice here or ignore any/all advice. I just wanted to clarify.
posted by dubious_dude at 8:07 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


I don't see "needy" as the same thing as reaching out to your friend to make plans and being disappointed when they don't follow up. These things just happen sometimes, and it sucks. The only thing you can do is accept that friendships wax and wane. BTW everyone our age has trouble making new friends. I don't mean to downplay the effects of being in a small community but if you were thinking that it's easier for hearing people... it's not.
posted by bleep at 8:15 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Couple things.

First, being busy or overwhelmed--just because her schedule hasn't changed in the last month or whatever doesn't mean that the situation at work hasn't changed, or that she isn't feeling burnt out, or experiencing some depression, or any number of things that could make her flaky and avoidant right now, even if she wasn't a month ago. Stress is a cumulative thing for a lot of people, and workplace stress especially so. A minor disagreement with a coworker can easily snowball and make the whole situation crappy. Making time for going out with other friends doesn't mean that the above isn't true--maybe it was a friend's birthday, or a long-standing engagement, or maybe someone caught her in the right mood at the right time and everything just happened to work out that evening.

Second, the Wendy thing. When your best friend lives far away, I think that it's pretty reasonable to basically put the rest of your life on pause for the week or two that you get to see them. If Wendy's just come back to the area you live in, they're still coasting on that oh my god, I haven't seen you in forever kind of feeling. Once Wendy's been there for a while, things will probably start to balance out again.

You do sound needy, and you sound intensely unhappy. The only suggestion I have, unfortunately, is to develop hobbies and interests that you can do on your own, and to practice enjoying being with yourself. I realise that's a difficult thing, but it's not impossible. Look for places on the internet where you can be part of a community--hobby boards and the like are great for that sort of thing, as is fandom.

Phases like this are, in my experience, normal in almost all long-term friendships. Dealing with them maturely and without causing drama gives you +10 friendship ability, though, and probably strengthens the relationship in the long run.
posted by MeghanC at 8:29 PM on May 25 [5 favorites]


Your friend has more friendship balls in the air. She doesn't have to put her full weight into her friendship with you and she's dropping your particular ball a lot more.

The thing with friends is that sometimes you won't get together for awhile and then, when you do, you pick up where you left off...or things slowly die and you get new friends. While it is certainly harder for you to find new friends because you have a communication barrier between you and a lot of people, it is not impossible. I mean, she has friends. She lives in the same city.

That said, she's being a jerk and you should call her out on it. Stop assuming it's you. It's her. She's not being clear with you. She prioritizes her other friendships over the one she has with you and she's willing to let your friendship wither because of it. It's not cool of her to do this.

But I imagine that, being friends with you might be tiring for someone if you're the center of their friend world. Give her a break for awhile. Look for new friends in the meantime. This is the age of the internet. You can do it.
posted by inturnaround at 8:35 PM on May 25


For the Wendy situation, it was completely understandable in February when she was visiting for 2 weeks after not having seen Amber for 2 years. I wasn't upset about being ignored at that time. This time around, she's here in DC for good, and temporarily living with Amber until she finds permanent living arrangements. It bothers me that Amber would do an 'about-face' and ignore me while focusing on Wendy, especially if Wendy will live in DC, anyway. I don't know if that's explicitly what Amber is doing right now, but it seems like it.

What really bothers me is that even after I went through the energy and effort (not to mention anxiety) of sharing my feelings with Amber on Friday, she still did the same thing (brushing me off now). She was really showing a considerable effort up to May, including surprising me for my birthday, doing many things together, etc. That's why this baffles me - and I have already shared my concerns with her, and she was very nice about it. Now, it's like... I suddenly don't exist. The BBQ plans has been forgotten, apparently, and she didn't even make an effort to respond until I had to text her and follow up. I understand people forget texts, but she said she saw the earlier text. She didn't even bother to respond, and clarify on the spot. Also, zero effort was made on her part to make any concrete plans or even answer my follow-on question about what time tomorrow (today, actually) was best for us to contact each other regarding a potential BBQ get-together.

Sorry for the emphasis (boldness) - wanted to make sure the main point came across.
posted by dubious_dude at 9:10 PM on May 25


I just want to say that it's possible, although it may not be likely, that there could be something going on with her that you don't know about. Some things are just super private or uncomfortable. If she doesn't feel comfortable telling you or anyone about something it doesn't necessarily mean that she thinks less of you or of your friendship. Even the closest of friends can have secrets from one another, and that can be okay and healthy.
I know that you said that there are photos of her going out with other friends on facebook. I don't know if this applies to your situation, but I know that there have been times in my life when I wasn't as healthy and the only socializing I could do was the most convenient socializing possible. I couldn't go to others, but sometimes people could come to me. Sometimes I was too overwhelmed for any optional social interaction at all. It didn't mean I didn't care about my friends as much, and I understood that the friends who couldn't come to me didn't love me less. This was happening for reasons beyond everyone's control. Maybe it's happening to you guys too.
Maintaining this friendship right now might be hard for her for reasons that she can't help. I think it's valuable for friends to try to remember that people are complicated and life can be hard, and then try to give each other the benefit of the doubt whenever reasonable. I wouldn't try to make an overarching assessment of who might be at fault or how real/fake your friendship is right now. It might be more productive to look in other places and other people for things that you get out of this relationship. That way when one relationship changes, maybe it will be less difficult for you to adjust. It's true that being Deaf means that there are significant communication barriers and cultural differences between you and people who aren't in the American Deaf community. But if you've exhausted the local options for meeting new people, I agree with MeghanC - online spaces can be great place to start looking for more interaction, and communities formed around hobbies or interests might be a more comfortable starting point.
posted by Verba Volant at 9:25 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


This isn't about you. The world is bigger than this.

I get the whole deaf community thing, but it has been said before - you gotta branch out somehow.

Amber does not "owe" you what you think she does.

Here's another suggestion: Try to imagine friendships like the sport of Surfing.

Sometimes one wave (or friendship crests) sometimes another.

Get off the "Amber" wave, paddle out, and find another "friendship wave" to ride for a while. Maybe a long long while.

Give Amber a breather. You can not not not make someone be responsive if they are not being so, so shift your focus to something else more positive.
posted by jbenben at 9:47 PM on May 25 [7 favorites]


You know, not being friends anymore isn't that hard to get used to. What's way, way, way harder to get used to is having the person who you were at some point incredibly close with... suddenly have someone else they're being that close with and not really wanting to address that fact with you. I am going through it now, personally, with the person who has been one of my best friends for awhile now, and it is miserable, but I think in the end it does still pass. I don't think it's weird to have someone you were that close to, at all, nor is it strange or unusual to feel hurt when that closeness passes, but if you can manage to ride it out, you can usually end up maintaining the friendship just fine. And a few times in my life, that person has at some later point also come back to being one of my closest friends.

Life can be a bit of a roller-coaster, and that part sucks, but I don't think there's much to do about it other than engage in every distraction you can find and still make friendly overtures to the person whenever you can, and see what happens later. It's actually kind of nice to see someone ask this because the other night I was kind of grinding my teeth about my friend coming to me with a long thing about how the person I'd kind of suspected was the new BFF was turning out to be less perfect than previously imagined, and now I think I feel a bit more hopeful again about that all sorting itself out in future.

I don't know why people do this, except that I don't think there's really a good social script for, "I know you've been my best friend except that I think now this other person is my best friend, but I do still like you so please don't hate me?" At least in my case, I'm pretty sure that avoidance of actually dealing with the issue is in some way a gesture of affection. If she didn't care, she wouldn't keep trying to smooth things over. If she cared as much as I wanted her to, she'd still be around more. So, she cares... well, something between those two, and I expect I'll figure it out over time. I put more effort into spending time with other people and other activities, and I think so far that's been going okay.
posted by Sequence at 10:05 PM on May 25 [6 favorites]


There's a lot going on in your relationship, but one thing stood out to me that I'd like to address.

You're assuming that because Wendy will remain in DC, then Amber's behavior should not be affected in response to her presence. This seems to be kind of a stretch.

For one thing, if they are good friends, then the prospect of Wendy being around long term may not do anything to reduce Amber's delight in having her friend here right now. Intellectually it might seem to you as though Amber should automatically internalize that Wendy's here to stay and that her arrival should therefore be no big thing, but I don't think it's reasonable to expect Amber to a) automatically infer your line of reasoning or b) behave according to your assumptions about how she should feel.

In addition, Wendy is staying with Amber until she gets her own place. This can be a huge upheaval for Amber. While her feelings toward Wendy might be nothing but positive, having someone move to town and live with you short term is very disruptive to routine, adds a lot of stress, and requires some cognitive processing resources. You seem to be ignoring that.

If Amber is feeling spread thin she'll likely see your demands on her as insensitive. Given what you've said about Wendy's arrival, how you think it shouldn't affect Amber, and the expectations and demands you're putting on Amber at what may be a stressful time, it does seem to me like you are being insensitive.

You now seem to be at a point where you're beginning to consider the friendship as a transactional relationship, and that you've put in but are being prevented from taking out. I think if you value the friendship for real, you ought to give Amber the benefit of the doubt and make more generous assumptions, i.e. she's stressed, she's got an old friend in town who requires time and attention, and maybe now is the time to offer support and/or give her some room instead of demanding validation and increased closeness.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 10:27 PM on May 25 [14 favorites]


You triend to talk to her about it, that doesn't seem to have worked. You may perceive having talked to her about it as a process of open communication, she may have perceived it as something else. Some people are amenable to that kind of communication and will respond positively, others will not.

You seem to be putting a lot of thought and worry into this. I get it, I have the same thing. I am introverted and I like close friendships more than shallow ones, so my social circle historically has consisted of one or two close friends and a bunch of acquaintences. The problem is if you put all of your energy into the one relationship, it hurts more when it goes south or when it just reaches a slow point.

Consider that you might actually feel better if you just remove yourself from this situation somewhat. It is easy to focus on how a relationship with a person is in disharmony if you are interacting with the person regularly - whether it is interaction in the form of hanging out or interacting in the form of unanswered texts. I had a friendship sort of disintegrate recently in a somewhat similar context (ie, my anxiety about the state of the relationship) and I found that when I was no longer interacting with this person, all of a sudden I just felt a million times happier. That doesn't mean that this person was a bad person or a bad friend or what have you, but for whatever reason things in the friendship were kind of off for a while and I kept trying to fix it, which actually made things worse. I hate having disharmony in my relationships, but sometimes you just have to remove yourself from the situation, not in a 'you are not meeting my expectations and I am going to avoid you and let the anger pile up' way, but in an 'okay, you go do your thing which doesn't involve me right now for whatever reason and I am going to go entertain myself over here' way.

It's basically summer. Go for a bike ride. Visit a museum on the Mall. Take a road trip by yourself somewhere and reflect on life (something I enjoy doing). Or do whatever you like to do. You don't need this person to like you or this relationship to be in harmony to be happy.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 10:47 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


OP, one thing to realize is that because you are lonely for affection, you might view it as a POSITIVE sign if someone expressed upset at you for forgetting a bbq or ignoring them in favor of best friend in town. You might feel special that they value your friendship that much. But to people who might feel stretched thin, it is a negative.

For people who feel really overstretched, having someone repeatedly get upset due to lack of attention can feel so overwhelming that it overshadows the positives in the friendship. It can dwarf that friend giving you help (such as homework & computer help) and being there for you emotionally.

The overwhelmed person might feel like "I am up to my ears in things to do, and you want to have ANOTHER conversation about how I didn't reply to your texts or didn't follow through on our bbq plan? Oh my God, why are you making my life harder than it already is?" When that dynamic gets frequent enough, it can make the friendship feel "mediocre" despite the help and the nice activities you've shared in the past.

Just providing my viewpoint since you wanted an alternate perspective. Even for myself, when I have plenty of free time, I forget how stressed I was when I was overloaded. When I'm frantically busy, I forget how I felt to be idle and bored. If Amber's life is filled with friends and obligations right now, and your life is centered around her, it might be hard for each of you to see the other's viewpoint.
posted by cheesecake at 12:11 AM on May 26 [16 favorites]


You made a valid point, cheesecake. Thank you. All the answers here really gave me food for thought, for sure.
posted by dubious_dude at 12:33 AM on May 26


It really is simple. Wendy is in town. Amber is excited and extremely busy because of that. Amber is very bad at drawing her boundaries clearly. She hesitates to say "dude, sorry, I have no time for you for the next month or so." Perhaps she is generally flakey and just hopes she can fit you in somehow only it never works out. Perhaps you make it difficult for her to be honest by reacting dramatically to words like these.
Her strategy is to appease you with words, to promise you things that simply are not true (the bbq, the friendship not changing). She hopes she can put you on hold that way and return to your friendship later with minimum hassle. It's called "stringing along" and I'd attribute it more to general flakiness than malice or deep thought.
I don't know if you want to bother with a friendship on those terms (I wouldn't). But if you do you need to stop pushing. Demanding anything from her right now (time, answers, whatever) is likely to drive her away forever. She will avoid you because your legitimate needs stress her. They stress her because she is bad at protecting her own boundaries.

So in short, let her find her own way back to you. Tell her the ball's in her court and to hit you up when she has more time. Then let her be. And if she never comes back? Then she isn't your friend anymore in the first place.
You can't badger her into being invested in your friendship. All you get is someone you badgered into having reluctant contact with you.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:20 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]


I feel very attached and excited when I get a text from her...advise me on good ideas/strategies on how to 'detach' or 'unattach' myself

I find it helps, when one is a little too heavily invested in receiving a particular communication from a particular person, to step back and focus on all the other awesome things going on in one's life. Let this re-adjust you, so to speak, and more appropriately prioritise the communication (or the absence of it).

If you do not have enough other awesome, it's a good kick in the pants to go and get more. It doesn't have to mean more friends, just more good stuff going on in your life. Volunteering? An interesting new hobby? Something!
posted by kmennie at 2:46 AM on May 26


Try backing off for a while. You will continue to feel hurt, but do your best not to communicate that with Amber in any way. You perceived your talk with her, expressing your hurt feelings, as taking a lot of energy and effort on your part. It took a lot of energy and effort on her part too, being the recipient of your hurt feelings and expectations. That kind of communication may make her less likely, not more likely, to want to spend time with you. On the other hand, if you're the kind of friend that will make her feel supported and happy and lighter, the kind of friend she can call without worrying that you're going to blame her or ask her for things she's not willing to give, you might see more of her.
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:59 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]


Another comment here - your last question talks a lot about how stressful your life is at the moment. It sounds like you have a lot of difficult situations going on. Could your feelings of attachment to Amber maybe partly be a reflection of the general state of feeling challenged that you are in right now? Just something to consider. It is hard to gain perspective on things sometimes if you are struggling.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 4:38 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]


I think you guys have a real friendship, but you need more out of that friendship than she does. Honestly, I think the best solution here is for you to make more friends, and to develop hobbies outside of the friendship. You will be busier and have more needs met elsewhere, and that will help your feelings about this relationship substantially.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:25 AM on May 26


It also seems like you have a lot of resentment concerning this friendship and how you think she is treating you. Resentment is toxic to relationships, and it leaves you feeling like shit. If you can't get over it (or don't want to), it is okay to friend-dump her and just move on with your life. I know you think it's hard to make other friends, but if this friendship is hurting you, move on from it.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:33 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]


Wendy needs space and you're not giving it to her. Leave her alone, don't initiate much contact at all, and see if she wants to reignite the friendship on her own terms.

Whether or not she wants to maintain your friendship, you may want to examine your behavior in this situation to make sure you don't repeat it again. It sounds like you know a lot about what might have contributed to this issue from your end. Use that knowledge to inform your future behavior with new friends, and with Amber, if she wants to. Perhaps she is just out of rope at this point and can no longer maintain a friendship. No one knows but Amber. But it's pretty obvious that she needs space. Giving it to her is the only way your friendship has a chance of surviving, I'm afraid.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 1:05 PM on May 26


The thing is, sockermom, I've already given Amber space. It makes me sound like a stalker/annoying person or something - that is not my intention. I hate being strung along with soft no's - I do better in a literal sense, as in, being told literally, "no, I'm not able to do x or y on day xy:time:z."

I do agree in trying to wait and see what happens.
posted by dubious_dude at 6:18 PM on May 26


Well, she might not come back. Just give her space, think about what you might do differently in the future in a similar situation, and fill your life with other things and people. I may sound glib but this is really your best course of action. You need to truly just let Amber go and focus on the lessons this has taught you rather than on her. This is the only path to potentially revitalizing your friendship in the future - on her terms - and to making sure this doesn't happen again.
posted by sockermom at 6:59 PM on May 26


Being needy is not the same as being lonely. You need to find ways to solve your neediness, on your own; a therapist might be useful in this process, as might How To Be an Adult.

Other people cannot give you the validation you seem to be craving. And that's not because they're not trying hard enough; it's because it is actually impossible to get the validation you need from a healthy adult relationship.
posted by jaguar at 8:03 PM on May 26 [5 favorites]


You may do better in a literal sense, but some people are just not going to give this to you, unfortunately. And I think it is way more helpful to view this as a reflection of their perspective/their particular way of operating than as an affront to you in particular. The more you sit around trying to relate Amber's behavior back to you or your actions, the more you are just going to feel angry and bewildered and work yourself up.

Your perspective is understandable and your feelings are valid, and I don't think you should take implications that you are some sort of stalker in this situation seriously. This is an internet forum and no one here can say what the particularities of your situation are or can tell you precisely why Amber is reacting the way she is.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 3:03 AM on May 27 [2 favorites]


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