For many married couples, love—or at least its intensity—tends to fade with time. How then, does monogamy endure?
There seems to be a lot of new research lately that suggests that women do grow less sexually attracted to their husbands over the long relationship. Um … This is news? There’s this little concept called the seven-year itch that has been hanging around men’s heads for quite some time. Well, it seems the ennui is a two-way street.
I suppose the previous assumption was that women grew more deeply in love as the marriage years passed by. And with this assumption, was the idea that the deeper the love, the more sexual and connected the women would feel towards their husbands. Guess what? It’s difficult for two people to maintain a marriage, and even more difficult to keep that marriage vital, sexually exciting, and emotionally connected.
Love fades. A quick Google of the topic “love fades” generates enough material for two movies and several encyclopedias of information about the fleeting nature of love, passion, lust, and love. Some of us, who tried and failed to sustain the magic, are looking for clues, ways to not repeat the mistakes of our past. And some people are becoming more convinced that enduring monogamy is just not viable in our modern society.
The real miss for me, right now, as a divorced dad, has more to do with my kids than with my ex-wife. However, I have to say, she’s still attractive to me.
I’d say love ebbs and flows. There are moments of peak experience, high times of love and raw sexual joy. And these moments are easier when you’re in the early stages of a relationship. And there is no denying that a new sexual partner is an amazing opportunity to rekindle your own inner sexual demon. Perhaps in a past marriage you began to doubt if you still had it in you. And after some work recovering your mojo, post divorce, you’re back in the dating game and BOOM it happens. The Joy of Sex becomes a thing again and not just a book.
But the question of being able to maintain sexual desire and interest in your lover year after year is a bit more difficult to decipher. I’d love to say there was a strategy or a book I could point to that would give us all the answer. There is not.
I can tell you, that in my marriage, even as things went from awesome and new, to awesome with children, to less awesome with children and mortgage, to less than awesome, to non-existent, that I never lost the desire and energy for my wife. While there would have been plenty of reasons to look outside the marriage, or ask for release from the sexless bedroom, I was more committed to my kids than I was to MY sexual gratification.
Of course I can’t speak to her and her levels of desire, or how the monotony of monogamy might have had something to do with the frosty bedroom. But I knew that our love would prevail over the time and stress and aches of growing up and parenting two wonderful kids.
The real miss for me, right now, as a divorced dad, has more to do with my kids than with my ex-wife. However, I have to say, she’s still attractive to me. I would still be in love with her, if there were some way to magically turn back the less-than cool things that have happened since. And if we were still working together, financially, rather than independently, and with two houses, we could be dialing back our work loads rather than dialing them up again.
It’s okay, I don’t want a reconciliation, and I’m sure that she does not either, but it’s a shame when all this wonderful chemistry, love, passion, and mutually agreed upon goals falls into disrepair and we find ourselves having to start over, or in my case, imagining starting over, with someone new. I didn’t want someone new. I didn’t want any one else. I was not tired of her sexually.
I was hopeful that by withdrawing a bit of my overt love language with her and the kids, that she would step back into “that loving feeling” and return to her previously joyous self.
However, I think I was also carrying a huge portion of the task of keeping the love alive. Not just in the bedroom, but in our daily lives as well. I learned about The 5 Love Languages a bit too late to help my marriage, but I can see now how we were wired very differently for love and affection. My language is touch. And in our lives, and our kid’s lives, I was the one who wrapped my arms around everyone and hugged. I was the one generating 90% of the touchy-feely actions in our entire family.
This lack of balance in our expressions of love was most apparent, as things were trending downward in our love life, when I took a break from being the cheerleader of the emotional family. I was hoping that by dialing my own warm fuzzies back, my wife would recognize the lack and move in to fill the vacuum a bit. I was hopeful that by withdrawing a bit of my overt love language with her and the kids, that she would step back into “that loving feeling” and return to her previously joyous self.
It didn’t work. It didn’t really backfire either, but I got my message loud and clear. If there was going to be joy and connective love in our house, I was going to have to generate all of the adult portion of it. The kids were busy little love bugs. They reflected back as much love as you could pour into them. But between my wife and I, the connection sometimes required effort.
You’ve got to work at remaining loving, remaining vital and active in your own life, so you can show up as vital and loving in your marriage.
Thus I believe the new studies showing women too suffer from long-term monogamy burnout not as a finding, but as a confirmation that love and passion take work on both sides. You can’t find true love and hope that it will carry you on into your twilight years together. You’ve got to work at remaining loving, remaining vital and active in your own life, so you can show up as vital and loving in your marriage. If either partner drops in their love energy, it is the other person’s responsibility to respond, support, nurture, and communicate.
If you can talk about what’s happening, there is a possibility that you can read books like The 5 Love Languages, or Seven Principles to Make a Marriage Work, and do what it takes to rekindle your marriage. If either of you decides not to do the work of keeping the love alive, then you’re in for some tough times. And when negotiations and discussions break down, sometimes over sex, the fractures may end up becoming breaks. The loss of the love may end up signaling the loss of your marriage.
I don’t have any knowledge of how this myth of women’s sustained love life came about, but I know I didn’t buy it. And so when the books began coming out and women started saying, “See, we’re in need of excitement and variety too, ” I was nonplussed. Um, yeah, we know this. It’s called the seven-year-grass-might-be-greener-with-a-new-sexual-parner itch.
This post continues here: The Rest of Our Lives Loving the Same Person
back to Positive Divorce
- At the End of Sex and My Marriage
- Dad’s Hand On My Head, Forever
- The Ballet of Waking Up as a Single Parent
- Dad In Love a Happy Story
image: found image, creative commons usage
Doyin Richards doesn’t claim to be an expert on women, but he has an idea about what many moms like.
As a dad who operates a blog about fatherhood, I learned a lot from my wife, my friends, and my followers about women (specifically, moms) and what makes them happy in their relationships. One of the lessons I learned is what most moms find to be sexy in men. Spoiler alert: It has very little to do with bulging biceps, a fancy car, or being rich.
Moms think good dads are sexy.
If you’re a mom and you’re in a happy relationship, chances are you’re nodding their heads in agreement. Since I started my Daddy Doin’ Work blog, I can’t tell you how many messages I receive from women sharing pictures of their men caring for their kids and how “sexy” that is to them. The Daddies Doin’ Work (that’s my way of saying, “great dads”) reading this are nodding their heads in agreement too, because they know their spouses will love and cherish them until the end of time due to the amount of work they put in for their families.
Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.
#1 – Baby Wearing: Women love to see men wear babies. To see a big, strong man take part in a gentle act like strapping an infant to his chest is a beautiful thing, and most women find it to be extremely attractive. Not to mention, seeing a man willing to do that shows how confident he is. He doesn’t care if Neanderthals laugh at him for using a baby carrier. He does it because he loves being close to his babies and that love trumps any hater’s opinion. A woman sent me an email a few weeks ago that read, “Can you please have a talk with my husband about how baby wearing is sexy? He says only soft men would do that sort of thing.” Really? Men who wear their babies are a lot of things, but soft is not one of them.
#2 – Affection: You know that emotionally-unavailable dad? Sure you do. He’s the guy who thinks he’s an awesome father just because he brings home a paycheck. He never plays with his kids, he never tells them he loves them, and the only time he touches them is during a spanking when they “get out of line.” I’m not an expert on women, but I’ll go out on a limb by saying that no mom reading this finds that dad to be sexy.
You know what they find sexy?
Dads who come home from work and give their kids big bear hugs as soon as they walk through the door.
Dads who sit their kids on their laps while they complete puzzles or sing songs.
Dads who constantly offer positive reinforcement to their kids.
Dads who are manly enough to kiss their kids in public.
Dads who tell their kids how much they love them.
It’s a new world now and that emotionally-unavailable nonsense is as played out as the Macarena and the Harlem Shake. Affection is the new toughness.
#3 – Being Silly: The kids want to start a dance-off? He’s the first one to bust a move. Your daughter wants a date for her tea party? He’s the first one to put on makeup and sit at the table with her. These guys aren’t “too cool” to do anything for their kids because they understand that making their kids happy IS the coolest thing ever. As mentioned earlier, the level of confidence it takes to look silly and not care about anyone’s opinion (other than that of his family) is extremely attractive to many women. Not to mention, the silliest times always lead to the best memories.
#4 – Being a Partner Without Being Asked: The baby’s crying in the middle of the night and he quickly gets up to tend to her so you can sleep. You’re exhausted and he puts on the apron to whip up a nice dinner for you and your family – or, if he can’t cook, he brings home your favorite take-out instead. He’s heading out of town for the week on business and he leaves thoughtful notes in his son’s lunchbox to say how much he loves him. He notices that you’re stressed out and he surprises you with a mani-pedi day to regain your sanity while he watches the kids. Nobody asked him to do these things. He just does them on his own because he’s a good man.
Again, if you’re a mom and you’re in happy relationship, I’m sure this happens quite often for you. Even if that’s the case, I bet you still find it extremely sexy when it does happen, right? Of course you do.
Fellas, everything you do must be genuine and from the heart or else your lady will call you out on it faster than you can say, “Let’s cuddle.”
#5 – Appreciating His Partner: It doesn’t matter if a woman is a stay-at-home mom or a mom who works outside of the home – they are all Mommies Doin’ Work. Between toddler tantrums, diaper changes, and kids doing the complete opposite of what’s asked of them, it can be a stressful and extremely thankless gig at times. When their men pull them aside to say, “You know what, honey? I appreciate everything you do for our family,” all of the stress seemingly disappears. It takes so little effort to say thank you, but it has a ridiculously profound impact. Not to mention, moms find it extremely sexy when their men appreciate them.
In closing, here’s a memo to young men who will eventually get married and have children of their own: Believe me when I say that moms love men who demonstrate the traits I outlined above. Sadly there are men who’ve been married for decades and still have no clue about what it takes to be a good dad or husband. Don’t be like them. Most importantly, if you complete these tasks just because you want to have sex, it will never work. Why? Because as soon as women become moms, their BS-radar gets intensified. Don’t ask me why, it just does. Fellas, everything you do must be genuine and from the heart or else your lady will call you out on it faster than you can say, “Let’s cuddle.”
If you and your spouse believe in love, trust, commitment, honor, respect, compromise, teamwork, and sacrifice - you’ll not only have an awesome relationship, but you’ll probably raise some pretty awesome kids as well.
This article originally appeared on daddydoinwork.com
Photo courtesy of bigstockphoto.com
Yes, I Started an Instagram Account For My 5 Year-Old Son
Ben Shaberman shares how he became a man who cries. It was a surprise, beginning with a movie and an unexpected connection to his father.
My mother says she cried every morning when she dropped me off at a friend’s house or nursery school. It was never her plan to be a working single mother of three — of which I was the youngest — but as such in the 1960s, she was way ahead of her time. Most mothers were still staying at home to raise their children.
I don’t remember crying or being particularly sad back then — I was so young it was hard to recall much of anything — but I do vaguely recall feeling overwhelmed by the world as it presented itself to me. We moved around a lot, from one old apartment building to another. I was a small child, and shuffled around during the day between my mother’s friends, my older sister and brother, extended family, and neighbors. The driver of the nursery school bus that brought me home always had me sit in the front seat, so I didn’t get lost, the little pisher that I was.
I did have a memorable crying episode when I was 8-years old. I was part of a group of boys who were caught vandalizing our neighborhood elementary school. During our hearing in juvenile court, I bawled my brains out as the judge read the charges against me and my co-conspirators. My probation officer, a balding, no-nonsense guy named Mr. DiCillo, did an outstanding job convincing me that I was destined for indefinite incarceration in the county detention home if I didn’t get my act together. He pointed to the barred door of the DH outside his office and said, “That’s where they put juvenile delinquents. They won’t hesitate to lock you up and throw away the key. You don’t want to be a delinquent, do you?” Well, he scared me straight, for the most part, and I walked out of court with just a $25 trespassing fine, a wet shirtsleeve, and no hard time.
But I was ostensibly a non-crier as I moved through middle school, senior high, and college. Luckily, my family didn’t experience horrible tragedies during that time, though I did lose a grandfather, a grandmother, and a great aunt. But through all of those losses, I shed virtually no tears.
In 1986, almost a year after I graduated college, my father lost a six-month battle with lung cancer at the age of 57. Actually, it wasn’t the cancer that killed him, but complications he struggled with after he had a lung removed. Because of congestive heart failure and other cardiac issues, he had very little energy and was never able to wean himself off oxygen.
The last time I saw my dad, he was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Cincinnati. I had come down from Cleveland, 250 miles away, to visit him. Because he had been in and out of the hospital several times, I didn’t think his death was imminent. I knew he was weak, but no one indicated to me that he was on his way out. Through a series of hand motions and scribblings on a piece of paper, he was able to let me know that there was some cash in a drawer in his apartment that he wanted me to take. I found the money. He died a few days later.
My mother divorced my father when I was barely a toddler, primarily because he didn’t keep a regular job. He was an extraordinarily intelligent guy, a talented photographer, opera aficionado, and a licensed plumber. He was best known for his ability to fix just about anything — washers, driers, toilets, furnaces, jack hammers, you name it. But apparently, when I was just a baby, he preferred to stay in the basement tinkering at his workbench all day, doing his own thing, rather than taking on an income-producing day job. That forced my mother back into the working world and divorce court.
Later in life, my dad worked more steadily, though moving from job to job. With his know-how, he was a highly valuable resource. I met a couple of his bosses, who absolutely loved him. They called him “Stan the Man,” because he was their go-to guy when they had a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I remember watching him as he spent an entire weekend in the engine compartment of his boss’s cabin cruiser, making all sorts of refurbishments and repairs. I am betting my dad didn’t know a bow from a stern before that job, but he figured out what he needed to and made his boss a happy guy.
When I was a kid, my father did his best to entertain me on the weekends, taking me to movies, bowling, and fishing. On Friday evenings, I’d sit on the couch in front of my living room window, waiting for him to pull up in his blue Chevy Biscayne. Happy to see me, he’d always say, “Benny old bean,” as I got into the car. On the way to his apartment, he’d sing old movie and show tunes in a deep voice, a toothpick dropping with his lower lip when he projected in lower ranges. He’d love to tell me stories about old-school actors like Alan Ladd and Edward G. Robinson. He knew I had no idea who he was talking about, but he just couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm for yammering on about all the trivia and memories stuffed away in his head.
During my junior year of high school, I tried living with him — an experiment that failed miserably after he figured out I was getting stoned all the time and cutting classes. As his only child — my siblings had a different dad — I had been his only hope for establishing any type of family legacy, and it broke his heart to see me going nowhere. After one occasion when he tried desperately to reprimand me for my behavior by grounding me and taking away driving privileges, I abruptly moved back with my mother. He and I didn’t talk again for seven years, only reestablishing communication just as I was graduating college, about a year before he was diagnosed with cancer.
I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral. No doubt I was sad. He was relatively young, and he had suffered for several months, constantly running to the ER with plummeting red and white cell counts. Furthermore, he never remarried and didn’t have many friends — he had been a loner most of his life — so except for my aunt and me, there weren’t many people to help him keep his spirits up while he was convalescing. He liked keeping to himself. And he ultimately died alone with no friends or family at his side.
But I had a hard time making sense of my feelings for him. He and I never really got to know one another, and I can’t say that we ever had a single intimate conversation. I felt guilty for not being more upset at his death, but deep feelings of loss were simply not there for me.
Back when I got busted for breaking into school, my dad really struggled with how to be a father. He feigned anger, and proceeded to make me explain every detail of the crime. We even drove over to the school so I could show him the window that the other perpetrators and I went through to get inside. But in the end, he was more frustrated than anything else because there was nothing he could do, and we both knew there would be never be any punishment. I had friends who would have had the shit beat out of them. Others whose dads would have grounded them or made them do yard work or clean the basement. But as an every-other-weekend father, he was both mystified and powerless. I even felt sorry for him because this was such unfamiliar territory, and at the same time, his hands were tied. That father-son moment seemed like a charade to me, and was indicative how much space was between us. Ultimately, it was a big gap that never went away.
After my father’s funeral, a small group of family sat shiva at my aunt’s house, telling stories about my dad’s love of music and opera, his talents as a fixer of all things mechanical, and how he and my aunt had had a hard time growing up with just their mom, my grandma Leah, who had divorced my grandfather and namesake, Benjamin Shaberman, because of his gambling problems. She, like my mother, struggled to make it financially. I learned a lot about family history during those few days — a history my father was probably ashamed or embarrassed to reveal to me. And it sounded like the next generation, my parents, was just repeating that history. For the first time, I began to get a real sense of why my father was so upset about my shortcomings as a teenager.
Life moved on for me, and over the next three years, I moved to Washington, D.C., achieved some success in technology marketing, entered graduate school at the University of Maryland, and early in 1989, became engaged to an attractive and effervescent middle-school drama teacher. All was not perfect between Lori and me — we both harbored strong fears of marriage and commitment because of our family histories — and she was particularly upset at my tendency to withdraw when things didn’t go my way. We disagreed about a lot of things: when to have sex, when to have dinner, and when it was time to stop bitching about our troubles at work. I pouted like a three-year-old when I got frustrated or unhappy, and Lori went berserk when I didn’t respond well to her neuroses.
So, we entered couples therapy where Lori was tasked with chilling out while my mission was to learn to express my feelings better. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly jazzed about the process. For novices like me, therapy can initially feel like a trap. You are encouraged to be open and honest, so you might say something like, “My fiancee is a real dipwad,” and through what seems like psychological prestidigitation, the therapist reveals that you are really the dipwad because of something your parents did (or didn’t do) to you when you were five. Given that our therapist was ultimately correct in her assessments about 75 percent of the time — batting .750 is pretty damn good no matter what your game is — I bought into the process and worked hard to be more open about my feelings. But my progress was slow.
Speaking of batting averages, a few months after we started couples brainwashing — an exercise that ultimately did not save our relationship — Lori and I happened to see a Saturday afternoon matinee of “Field of Dreams” in a packed theater at a mall. On paper, the plot of the movie was rather hokey. A guy in Iowa builds a baseball field on his farm after hearing a voice of unknown origin imploring him to “build it and he will come.” Given that the movie plot involved baseball, I was willing to suspend disbelief about a voice from the heavens and major league ghosts. I even pretended to believe that Kevin Costner could act.
The movie starts with Costner bitching about his late father who desperately wanted young Kevin to be a ballplayer. Then Kevin hears the voice, and instead of more prudently seeking psychiatric help, he builds the ball field in about two minutes while draining the Costner family piggybank. As viewers learn, the voice’s ultimate agenda is to reunite Costner with his deceased father. And to no ones surprise, his dad shows up on the field at the end of the movie to play catch with Kevin.
Well, it was during the final scene that I completely and unequivocally lost it. Whatever dam or barrier had been holding back my feelings for my father suddenly gave way, and I was overcome by a veritable tsunami of emotion. Chock one up for therapy. For several minutes, I sat there with my hands in my face, bawling so much I was barely able to breathe. After the audience cleared, I continued sobbing on the way out to the parking lot.
Lori drove me to the track of a local high school where we walked laps as I continued to cry and talk about my father, primarily my sadness over his solitary life and the fact that he, and I missed the opportunity to develop a strong bond. Looking back years later, I have come to realize that at the age of 25, the age I was when he died, I wasn’t emotionally mature enough to even want more intimacy with him. And I will never know what he was capable of or wanted with me. I don’t cast blame on anyone for what we never had.
But that moment in the spring of 1989 flipped the crying switch in me; I went from being rather emotionally shut down to a prolific crier, at least by guy standards. Now I can lose it during all sorts of songs, movies, and stories about animal rescues or people who have accomplished incredible feats or overcome adversities. I am a real sucker for this world’s underdogs. I even cried once while resigning from a job I hated.
I’ve also recently become somewhat of a morning crier. I’m not sure exactly why — I’ve never been much of a morning person or maybe it is a consequence of male menopause — but mornings can be all gloom and doom for me, when I feel like they should be filled with promise and excitement of the new day. I imagine mornings for me were like what Aprils were for T.S. Eliot.
The good news is: I feel better after I cry, and once I get into the office and work for a couple hours of work, I am back to my jovial self for the rest of the day.
I’ve wondered recently if my occasional morning crying episodes have anything to do with those early days when my mother handed me off to other people before heading into work. Maybe I am finally getting over all those separations from my mother? Maybe I harbored sadness for her tears and am just now getting in touch with it? Maybe I am in an emotional catch-up mode for all those years I didn’t cry about anything, and at the same time, just a sensitive guy?
Whatever the case, I have no doubt that I’ll forever be grieving the loss of my father — both for what we had and what were never able to build. It’s a huge hole I’ll never be able to fill as much as I might try. And while I have done some things differently from my father, perhaps what is most difficult for me is that now, every day, I understand a little better what it was like to be him.
When Randall Frederick tells people that he writes about sex, the topic conversation shifts to…sex.
It is a curious thing to tell the person I am dating on any given week that I write about sex. This opens the door for all kinds of assumptions, but most of my work is concerned with sexual ethics and moral construction. Even saying this, my dates surely hear me saying things that sound incongruent. Talking to others in the sex field, almost every conversation ends with a sometimes frustrated, sometimes blissful sigh and an agreement that there are many ways to talk about sex.
Finding myself once again in one of those conversations, I started to write down some of those “many ways,” making a few notes with them.
- Biological: Sexuality activity seen in terms of mating behavior and physiological response. Functionality is of primary concern with considerable attention given to genetics, chemical balances, etc.
- Communal: Similar to sociological in that it is concerned with cultural, but more focused to local and immediate context (i.e. friends, immediate peer group, etc.) Sex is about securing social bonds and relational stabilization.
- Economic: Sex is a series of exchanges by which we achieve goals, valuation, or a degree of power; marriage and prostitution are both “transactions” by which we feel valued and are valuing our partner(s).
- Ethical: Considers sex in terms of ethical norms on what is “right/wrong” and why.
- Familial: Even more focused than the “communal” lens, the familial is primarily about what we learned from family and friends while growing up; relates to what is “permissible” among those who are closes to us.
- Gendered: Sex is about finding meaning in gender roles (ex: “feeling/ making our partner feel like a man/woman,” negotiation of initiator/responder, etc.)
- Historical: Discussions of sex in this lens tend to focus on mating behavior over time (i.e. evolutionary biology) and comparisons between today and some previous point.
- Individual: Fulfillment of individual wants; self-fulfilling desires are the primary motivator of all sexual activity and expression.
- Moral: Considers sex in terms of personal conviction on what is “right/wrong” and why.
- Personal: Individual experience(s) and context; personal trauma; most sensitive lens in that it is the most difficult to communicate and resides firmly in the mind and emotions of the individual, consciously or otherwise. Different from “individual.”
- Physical: The most “practical” lens, in that is looks only at the physicality of sex; positions; intentional body awareness; sexual expression over the life cycle, etc.
- Psychological: How sexual identity and desires affect the individual; includes discussion of gender identity and what role, if any, our desires have on us.
- Relational: Sexual understanding between ourselves and partner(s).
- Sociological: Role and effect of sexual expression in broad cultures (ex: “European” or “California”) not to be confused with communal which is local.
- Theological: Considers the role of religious identity and spiritual context; not specifically any particular religion as this is a broad spectrum of what we think, feel, and believe our faith tradition promotes or denies; considers sex alongside deeply held convictions and existential concerns (i.e. the “moral” or “ethical” lens) within a religious framework.
These lenses are not comprehensive, but are certainly a strong start to understanding what is meant when we discuss sex. When friends or colleagues ask me my thoughts on the topic, I find that it is helpful to locate which lens they are using first. To try and talk about the physicality of sex with someone when they are instead discussing it abstractly makes for a strange conversation indeed! This is, however, what happens so frequently when we discuss sex and sexuality — we find that we are coming from entirely different perspectives and feeling a measure of unsettlement.
As with anything of interest, our attention will shift over time. The physical lens of high school sex-ed class (or teenage masturbatory exploration) leads into a personal awareness and later a relational understanding. Bawdy humor at a dinner party will be misunderstood, leading us to explain no, no, I was just joking! from which we will become more sensitive to personal experience. Knowing that our thoughts and attentions will change over time, indeed that we are often using multiple lenses — such as when we discussing the interaction of biological, psychological and physical response — can help us understand where we are coming from ourselves, and articulate what we really mean with one another. Indeed, as much as we talk about sex, it is still a confusing topic. Every measure of understanding between one another could very well make for better relationships and a more stimulating sexual experience.
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Originally posted at Huffington Post
Photo: Boston Public Library/Flickr
Also by Randall Frederick:
Rewriting Our Sexual History
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