I freeze up on dates and I fail. What do I do.
August 12, 2011 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I've been going on some dates lately, usually with women that I really like. Except I hype the date up so much in my head that by the time it happens I literally have nothing to offer because I am no longer acting like myself and I freeze up. And I bomb.

The process is:

1) Meet awesome girl
2) Get number
3) Ask out - she says yes! I'm not afraid of asking people out if I think a connection is there.
4) Obsess - I mean completely OBSESS - until the day of the date. What am I going to talk about? What will I say? What will I wear? What should we do? What if we make out? What if we have sex? What should I ask her? What if the bar/restaurant I chose is too crowded and there's a long wait? What if the food is shit? What if? Why? When? Where?
5) Day of date arrives, so goddamn nervous I'm shaking.
6) Go on date - have nothing to talk about. Too nervous. Spew stupid shit/terrible jokes/obviously inane small talk with PAINFULLY awkward silences between. Bomb completely.
7) Borderline hover-hand hug goodnight and never speak again.

This fucking sucks. It's like my brain is subconsciously trying to make me be alone for the rest of my life. I try to nip each problem in the bud too: Obsessing over the date during the coming days? I stay busy, I have a full time job, I work out, I go out with friends and partake in my hobbies.

The easy answer to this question is, "well it sounds like you're just going on dates and the connection isn't there - you'll be okay!" But the connection IS there. I'll meet these women and a connection is SO there, the only thing fucking it up is my neurosis and anxiety and propensity to blow up small things into big things.

And this doesn't happen with anything else! I give presentations to clients at work, I breeze into parties and make friends with everyone there - I know how to be extroverted! I really do. People can energize me. But when it comes to spending alone time with a woman I like, it's just completely nerve wracking I'm so afraid she can feel me shaking that I just freeze out completely. It's awful.

I've tried meds. I've tried therapy. I don't know what to do. I wish I could say some magic line on dates like "I'm so sorry if I act awkward, it's just because I like you and you make me really nervous," but I realize life is not a movie and that would probably make things more awkward.

Please help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well. Like any other thing that makes me start playing the "what if game," I literally imagine the worst case scenario and answer that "what if." The worst-case scenarios generally don't end up that bad.

For example:

What if the bar/restaurant I chose is too crowded and there's a long wait?

Then you'll go somewhere else.

What if the food is shit?

You'll make it into a joke. "Good lawd, that was bad."

What if we make out? What if we have sex?

Rock over London, rock on Chicago!
posted by functionequalsform at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

Just keep doing it, and possibly line up 2 or more dates (not on the same night of course) so you do not obsess on one of the people.

This is normal, believe me. I did it a lot and even though I am married and "out of the market," I turn instantly into George Costanza any time I am around a woman I find very attractive.

Also, possibly one of the reasons you "bomb" is because there is really not the potential for a connection there, and you internalize this as your fault.

Set up dates which do not feature, as the main deal, you just sitting and talking. Go for a hike, or something active, so you can talk about the activity and not have to pull stuff out of your ass.

But keep doing it and it SHOULD get easier. Good luck.
posted by Danf at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention one really important thing: how often do you actually try for date two? Do you just assume it went as bad as you think it did and never call them back? Because if that is the case, call them the fuck back. Regardless of how badly you think you did. Why? Because you did not do as badly as you think you did.

Unless they threw a drink in your face or did walked out in the middle of the date with an "oh, shoot, I think I left the toaster in the oven" or something, whatever you were doing was good enough to have them sit through the thing. The chances that you have gone on dates with a bunch of girls so bored and so lonely they'll sit through you being as bad as you think you are is minimal. They saw something there that kept their but in the bar stool and their hand on their drink. Try to see that in yourself: it's obviously there.

Oh, and the shaking? Show up early and have a drink or two on your own in the bar. The booze will calm your nerves and make you more comfortable with your surroundings. That way, when she shows up, she'll be showing up to you and your bar.

Spew stupid shit/terrible jokes/obviously inane small talk with PAINFULLY awkward silences between.

Yeah, this is basically a first date. This is how it goes. You're with this new person with whom the only thing you have in common is that you don't utterly repulse one another and you're expected to make something of it. What the hell else do you think will happen?

You're being too hard on yourself. Analyze anything that happens during a first date, to the extent you do, and it will seem like a horrorshow. Your stupid shit isn't as stupid as you think. Your terrible jokes aren't as terrible as you think. Your small talk isn't as inane as you think (or, rather, it probably is, but I doubt the other side is doing any better.) Awkward silences? Get used to 'em. Even the dates I've had that went swimmingly had quite the number of them.

Basically, I can sum up everything I just said by editing one of your own sentences:

...the only thing fucking up my perception of how things went is my neurosis and anxiety and propensity to blow up small things into big things.
posted by griphus at 1:31 PM on August 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

"I'm so sorry if I act awkward, it's just because I like you and you make me really nervous"

If I found you charming enough to go on a date with, I'd find this charming too. I'd probably reply in kind and then hey, we'd have a conversation going. But then, I like openness about feelings.

What kinds of dates are these, by the way? If they're coffee/dinner/drinks, it sounds like you might do better with something that introduces conversation topics. For instance: a walk in the park, shooting pool at the local dive bar, a visit to a small museum. Anything with elements of randomness that you can distract you from the fact that it's A Date and can bring out your inner extrovert.

Also, when you say you never speak again--do you mean that when you try to contact them for a second date, you get no reply? Or do you mean that you've been so disheartened by the date itself that you don't even bother to ask again? You give no indication here of how your date felt about it; are you sure they really thought it was bad and wouldn't go out with you again? Maybe the second date would be better.

Finally, have you tried online dating? There's less ambiguity and it's pretty low stakes--you know that nearly everyone you're seeing isn't expecting a whole lot. You run the gamut of weird, bad, and amazing dates. It's been good practice for me. It's also just easier to feel relaxed when you have a lot of options. It taught me that the first date is less about impressing the other person and more about getting to know them. You might want to try it.
posted by millions of peaches at 1:37 PM on August 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

Hmm. Instead of distracting yourself or trying to calm yourself down, when you have the time try thinking, in detail, about the world's worst date with this woman as hard as possible until it no longer frightens you. Go into imaginative detail and don't try to talk yourself out of your anxiety--embrace it. You will get really, really uncomfortably anxious but eventually your sympathetic nervous system will run out of steam and you won't be able to panic in the same way anymore.

(This is really best done with the help of a therapist who is good at CBT...)
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:41 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Oh, by the way, don't go all clean-slate and start calling back dates from this moment forward. No, no, no. What happened was that things got really busy at work and you're sorry you didn't have time to call back but you really enjoyed the date last week and hey would you like to go out again?)
posted by griphus at 1:42 PM on August 12, 2011

Spew stupid shit/terrible jokes/obviously inane small talk with PAINFULLY awkward silences between.

Yeah, this is basically a first date. This is how it goes.

I got over much of my fear/loathing of dating by setting the expectation bar low and just focusing on having a nice conversation. Pulling that off constitutes a successful first date. Anything beyond that is a bonus. I found that this both took a lot of pressure off and not infrequently led to bonuses and/or second dates.

It also helps shape some choices: we should go somewhere where conversation will be possible. I should wear something comfortable, as it's hard to focus on conversation when my shoes pinch or my collar itches or whatever. I should have a look at the headlines (or MetaFilter) for some conversation-starting ideas.

Once I set the bar for a first date at "a pleasant interaction", dating became a lot less stress-inducing.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:46 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your basic problem is that you are going on dates with " women that I really like" before you have any reasonable basis to determine that fact (guessing what you honestly mean is: "women I find sexually attractive and I've stalked on facebook and found out they also like some of the same movies that I do.)

You seem to have a huge case of "lack of emotional self-esteem" coupled with a heavy dosage of "No women would actually want to sex me unless I convince them I am james bond with a computer science degree - therefore I will never follow anything up so I don't have to deal with that rejection"

Contrary to popular belief, a date is not a chance for a guy to "impress" a girl and convince her that you are "worth dating" - its a chance to find out wether you actually have things in common and can forge a relationship together. Stop limiting your dates to people you have pre-screened "a connection" with (but not enough of a connection that you ever get beyond a good night hug????)

You might find it helpful to read "No More Mr Nice Guy" by Robert Glover & "Way of the Superior Man" by David Deida.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:46 PM on August 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's just a date. You will not be proposing marriage during the date. You are going out to do something enjoyable in the company of someone you'd like to get to know. That's it. Don't try to impress your date because you will try too hard. Seriously: it's just a date. Make this your mantra.

Also, this follows the (good) advice that's often given in the context of online dating, but it might work for you too: if you're getting too worked up over The Big Date, make your first date something really low-key. Just go out for coffee. Take the pressure off yourself.
posted by adamrice at 1:48 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Totally relate. My strategies (which have met with mixed results but work better than doing nothing):

1) Admit you're nervous. It's charming and the person will usually be nice about it.

2) Drink alcohol. I know this totally sucks as a strategy but it is a tried and true way to reduce social anxiety.

3) Avoid the scenario where you are sitting across a table staring at someone you don't know well. Dinner, coffee shops, these are totally anxiety producing. If you do go for coffee, bring a deck of cards or another activity to do with the person. This will give you something to talk and joke about. Personally I am also usually too nervous to play well, so pick something low-key or that you're already good at.

4) Try to keep very busy before the date, especially the day of the date, so you don't get all obsessed with it. Go for a run or somehow push yourself physically that day to get out all your crazy energy.

5) Ask for a second date. You could even say, "I was so nervous last time I feel like I blew our date. Give me a second chance?" Then find something super fun like a hilarious movie, a roller coster ride, a bridge to scale together, or something that will force you both to laugh and loosen up.

Good luck!
posted by serazin at 1:48 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

The only things I can think of that are practical are:
1) have you tried cutting down on the amount of time you have to stew? Like, meet on Saturday, call Monday, coffee Wednesday? Tuesday, even? It might be easier to distract yourself if you don't have do it for so long.

2) have you tried doing stuff, instead of just hanging? Like, asking her to a concert or to go shoot skee ball or a pub trivia night or something? I mean, something where you can talk, but you're also doing stuff. Especially something where you have to team up can be good. It would give you a topic of conversation, but it would also give you another mode to switch your mind to, to jog your brain out of the Path of Freakout. Maybe even a group event --- a bunch of people going bowling or something? You're not going to feel nervous about talking smack about your friends' gutter balls, and that way she'll get to see you being relaxed and charming, see that side of you without your having to be all "think of something charming as fuck to say to her right now. Now, dammit" in your head.

I guess that's maybe my impractical advice, too. Maybe you'd be easier on yourself if you downplayed your own attraction. You're getting flop sweat because you're treating each encounter like a three hour audition for the role of boyfriend. Presumably if these girls were in the friend zone for you, you'd have no trouble talking to them. So, set your expectations that way. Don't worry about when/how/if/whether to kiss her or otherwise make your move. Just figure all that's going to happen is that you're going to talk for a bit and hang out and learn a little bit more about what seemed like a cool person. I don't think taking that tack will lock you out of any action you would otherwise have gotten.
posted by Diablevert at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2011

Have you gotten actual feedback from girls about how they felt on your dates? Sometimes I'm so shocked at a guy's "strategy" or some awful/tasteless/vulgar joke that I will make a comment, sometimes joking, sometimes not. And I worry a lot about being nice. But if it's that bad, I'll say so.

You also don't say whether you and the girl "never talk again" because she ignores all of your calls or because you never talk again.

"I mean he was a little weird during our date, but I just figured it was because he was nervous and I thought it was kind of cute. But then he never called again. He must really hate me. Should I have worn a ponytail instead of a braid? Was the third bracelet one bracelet too many? Maybe I shouldn't have ordered a salad, people always say that guys hate it when girls order salads..." Do you think this could be a girl you've gone on a date with?

If you have concrete evidence that your dates' perception of your performance is as bad as it is in your head, then it seems like you take too much responsibility for the success of the date onto yourself. I mean I know guys do this (according to John Gray, if I say "this burger is undercooked" I am implicitly saying that the guy is a failure for picking this restaurant and I'll never, ever sleep with him, instead of just... that the burger sucks and maybe the chef is out sick and we should try another restaurant on our second date). But it's obviously making you crazed. Your responsibilities are to ask her out and then make sure she has fun. You successfully completed task one. So make task two easier. Don't pick a restaurant you haven't been to before. Pick one that you already know she likes, or one that has irefutably good reviews. Choose an activity that will give you plenty of material to talk about and plenty of natural, unakward pauses in the conversation. Ask friends, especially girls, for successful-date ideas.

For the shaking and physically-uncontrollable nervousness, my electrologist says to make sure you have food in your stomach, avoid caffeine all day (includes tea, Coke, etc), and maybe pop an ibuprofen or two. You could also try masturbating--I remember that from There's Something About Mary, although I have not tried it as a pre-electrolysis strategy.
posted by thebazilist at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2011

As someone who is learning to stop obsessing in other areas, I'll tell you what has been working for me.

You recognize you're obsessing. This is great. Part of you understands that this obsessing is not helping you. But there is another part of you that secretly believes that this obsessing is useful. You think you're going to find the Magic Answer and Figure Everything Out. This could not be more wrong.

Obsessive thinking is worse than no thinking at all. Productive thinking is a candle that illuminates your situation. Obsessive thinking is an atomic flamethrower that torches everything it comes near. You have to be willing to say to yourself, "it's better for me to think about nothing at all than to obsess" or "it's better for me to spend the next 5 days in a coma than to obsess".

The very first moment you begin to obsess, stop. Think about *anything* else. It is better to go into your date with the most minimal forethought (hey, spontaneity can be fun) than with a flamethrower-charred mind.
posted by the jam at 1:56 PM on August 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

I had a date lined up this past Tuesday and I was pretty nervous, because I hadn't been on a date in almost a year. I talked to my mom about it and she replied "instead of thinking 'I hope he likes me," think 'I hope I like him'." I did just that. Date went well and I've got a second date all lined up for this weekend. Listen to my mom.


What kinds of dates are these, by the way? If they're coffee/dinner/drinks, it sounds like you might do better with something that introduces conversation topics. For instance: a walk in the park, shooting pool at the local dive bar, a visit to a small museum. Anything with elements of randomness that you can distract you from the fact that it's A Date and can bring out your inner extrovert.

A thousand times this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:05 PM on August 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

Also, UGH, don't hug me. You're not my aunt. Just a hug at all is hover-handsy. A hug is like, you can't control your physical attraction to me enough to hold back but you're too wimpy to go in for something more romantic. Like a 14 year old.

I personally don't like to kiss on first dates, even if I really like a guy. But you can lean in and give me a kiss on the cheek. This is not encompassed within hug gestures. You can maybe put a hand on my upper arm to stabilize yourself as you lean in and kind of slightly twist me so that you're coming in on my side and making it clear that you're not leaning in for a mouth kiss.

But you don't have to even be up to that. I'd literally prefer a handshake to a hug. Or even like, just standing, not touching at all, but looking into each other's eyes, prolonging the goodbye, which will be a little awkward, while I think "Omg, he totally wants to kiss me right now, aaahhh!!! (in a good way)" And then we both part ways, without touching. Sexy suspense until the next date!
posted by thebazilist at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hello, I'm the girl version of you. Plus I get social anxiety. So what made it work for me is good old fashioned "how to win friends and influence people" tips, though I haven't read the book in years. I concentrate on them. Ask them questions about their lives, and let the conversation go that way. I figure if something blossoms, it'll be cause they get that I'm not always the life of the party. To be honest, not a lot of repeat dates (eg none yet, but it's early days), but my friend count is growing, so I'm doing something right. Also, have stopped expecting any of them to be the one. In fact, I assume it will be one date where I get to have a nice chat with someone new.
posted by b33j at 2:07 PM on August 12, 2011

You are thinking of a date as a chance to measure up - both to the girl's awesomeness and a preconceived notion you have of what makes a date awesome - instead of thinking of a date as a chance to take your own temperature on what it's like to spend time together.

In the first instance, you inevitably fall short. The distance between your constant idealizing of the impossible standards that you have set and your grubby actual self feels very far and very hopeless.

In the second, you're feeling things out too. Moseying around in conversation, poking your nose around the chemistry situation, seeing how you feel.

On preview, yes most calm and still anticipatory outlook is: "I hope I like her!" and not the other way around.
posted by sestaaak at 2:09 PM on August 12, 2011 [6 favorites]

Show up at the bar first and drink a large gin and tonic. That is what I did, and now I have an awesome boyfriend.
posted by yarly at 2:14 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

World's worst dater here :) - but let me give you my thoughts, OK. I have been on both sides of the dating thing . I was born male and up until my mid 20's dated as such. I've been female now for like 25 years so I have some experience on both sides.

Let me talk about my experiences as a guy first and possibly relate then to you. firstly you don;t say how old you are - what you are feeling may be normal if you are 18 or 20 and a lot less average if you are 40 or 50. I'm going to assume that you are 30 ish and we'll go from there. My dates as a guy sucked - big time. My experiences and feelings were not unlike yours - there are times when I think back on the 4 or 4 women that I asked on dates then and seriously want to send them a sympathy card letting them know that I'm really, really sorry (let's not even talk about my prom date - oy vey!).

So why did all my dates suck? Looking back I believe it was because of insecurity (in my case insecurity about the sexual secret I was hiding) and feelings of unworthiness. I'm not remotely suggesting that you have gender issues (lol) but from one (formerly ?? )insecure neurotic person's experiences , I am picking up a sense of insecurity in your issue as well. What to do about it?

Try to take someone on a date somewhere that you really enjoy being. WHat are your interests? Your passions? Do you like science fiction, bookstores, indie movies, UNiversity lectures? Take your date someplace that you really enjoy being and then try to share that passion with them. If you are on your "own turf" you may feel a lot more comfortable . SO forget the normal "coffee date", "dinner date" or "movie date". They all suck for you. Take your date to a University lecturer that you may enjoy, a scifi convention, an amazing antique shop that you discovered. Something you can share. Something that you are interested in. Someplace that you feel comfortable and in control.

Speaking as a woman I think we are attracted ( well I am at least) to confidence, passion (for a subject rather than sexual I mean) , direction and an upbeat attitude. Oh and if you've over 45 and on the West coast - call me! :)
posted by Poet_Lariat at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

You know, you should stop thinking of them as dates. Start thinking of them as playdates. Literally, you're going out to have fun with someone who you think you'll have fun with. Nothing more.

Then, HAVE FUN. Have a good time. Who cares if she doesn't enjoy it? If she doesn't have a good time doing the things you enjoy, then you're not a good match. And if she does enjoy it, whoa, you've met someone who likes doing the same things you do! Which, by itself, is really really awesome.

Stop thinking of sex. Stop thinking of the future. Stop thinking "will she like me? will she have fun?" and start thinking this and only this: I want to have a good time on this date...what activity would I enjoy doing with this person? If she ends up not enjoying it, so be it...and how she handles that will help you understand the kind of person she is, which is a good thing.

Also, stop planning dates far into the future. Smaller dates, closer to home, so you don't have to plan too far in advance. Don't hesitate to call someone and offer "how about on Friday? Or, if you're not busy tonight, I'm planning to head over to [place you were already actually planning to go] if you have any interest in joining me."

I mean, after all, they're just dates. If you have to work really hard to get someone to like you, they're the wrong person anyway. Just go to have fun with a new friend.
posted by davejay at 2:58 PM on August 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have nothing to add but my sympathy. My envious sympathy. Just the thought of a date, for me, opens up huge yawning vistas of cataleptic boredom. It must be wonderful to get this excited.
posted by tel3path at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a real problem with this when I was deep in my depression. I had all my conversations with people in my head, all the way through, over and over again. To a certain (yes, I know, unhelpful) extent the key to not doing it was just not doing it.

Part of that was meds, part of it was mentally stopping myself whenever I started to do it. I'd chant "I don't know what is going to happen. I don't know what it going to happen" over and over in my head rather than letting myself play things out. I made an effort to live in the here and now rather than imagine outcomes. I focused on thinking about all the delightful surprises when things happen that I didn't expect. I forced myself to trust my ability to react to things and people without having thought it all out ahead of time.

It's sort of chicken and egg - I'm not sure what came first - but the result has been really enjoying other people a lot more and better relationships. Sort of a companion behavior was thinking about what I was going to say next rather than listening to what the other person was saying.
posted by phearlez at 3:14 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two things:

1) A certain degree of nervousness on the guy's part to me is an exciting thing. Especially if he geeks out and starts telling me exactly how fast a satellite travels through space at X attitude. One thing to think about it that you are going to geek out to a certain degree, boozing it up beforehand notwithstanding. Come to terms with that. Which leads me to --

2) Self-deprecatory humor as a strategy. If you give yourself opportunity to make a joke out of your nervousness, let me tell you right now, that's hot. Ever since my spinal cord injury that decreased my mobility dramatically, self-deprecation has been my friend. Here's a non SCI example from a date a few nights ago:

Me: I'd like some ketchup.
Date: Here you go.
Me: (Does something that somehow causes this GIANT GLASS BOTTLE of KETCHUP to go flying through the air in the direction of the table next to us)
Me: /slowmo Noooooooooooooooooooooo

Later on I go on riffs about how I am PTSDing about the ketchup and how the various nicknames I've earned re: my clumsiness.

Guy's still around, so far, so good.
posted by angrycat at 3:18 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

This must feel really awful. Sorry you're having such trouble. In some ways, your experience sounds like it shares some attributes with stage fright. A couple of suggestions that may help.

Practice breathing from your belly. You may not realize it, but when you're nervous your breathing gets all up in your chest and it makes everything worse. If you spend some time learning how to belly breathe and practicing it faithfully either in the morning when you first wake up or right before you go to sleep, it will soon feel natural for you. Then, you can check yourself to see if you're not doing it when you start getting nervous and use it to calm yourself down.

My next suggestion involves that voice in your head that criticizing you. Acknowledge that it's there, spend some time thinking about what it's telling you and address the negative messages one by one. Very similar to functionequalsform's advice, but focused more on the critical messages and aimed toward positive self-talk.

Lastly, when you're on the date get out of your own head and focus on your new lady-friend. Think about what she needs and may be thinking or worried about, and let that guide your conversation. Be generous with your attention.

Good luck. I'm rooting for you!
posted by Breav at 4:10 PM on August 12, 2011

This is classic. I would say that a high percentage of rational men go through these steps in one form or other at one time or another during their dating period of life.

The answer to the problem is to not obsess. Much easier said than done.

Married men do not have this problem because they are not trying to get the girl (they already have a girl).
This is why some say that single females are attracted to married men.
It is (in my theory) because the men are no longer trying, therefore they appear more confident.

In a way it sounds like bad advice, but I say: don't care about the date or the outcome of the date.
Approach it like you would if you were going to dinner with a buddy. Relax.

It is quite likely that your date is also questioning herself in a similar fashion. Don't let that feed your anxiety, try to defuse her angst and just have a good time.
posted by Drasher at 7:02 PM on August 12, 2011

work out before your date- it helps get some of that nervous energy out, and will get some endorphines running so you are not over-thinking so much.
posted by bearette at 8:56 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you come across as too smooth, you'll look like a player. Really, it sounds like you're doing it right and just not giving yourself credit for it.
posted by tel3path at 4:54 AM on August 13, 2011

This used to work for me when I faced similar situations - I think of The Me Of Tomorrow. How annoyed will The Me Of Tomorrow be that I froze? That I couldn't say anything? He'll be bloody annoyed! He'll be thinking "Why couldn't The Me of Yesterday get a goddam grip?".

For me, projecting into The Me Of Tomorrow made me think of ways of doing what I needed to do, and I would kinda think of us as a team, I would conquer my fear/nerves etc so that he would be happier.
posted by Admira at 9:17 PM on August 15, 2011

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