What’s the Difference Between Settling and Compromising?


Hi Evan,
I’ve been reading your blog for the last few months and enjoying it a lot. Unlike some other dating blogs, it’s very balanced and offers a guy’s perspective, which is in itself unique. I received your newsletter
today (“What you should be looking for in a partner,”) and I guess it does hit close to home since it inspired me to write back. Being one of those 90th percentile women, I do know firsthand how hard it is to find a quality man. What you say about a partner being a complement and not a clone does make sense technically, but therein lies the problem: a woman who is in the 90th percentile in looks, intelligence and income will have absolutely no problem finding a guy who is in the 60th percentile. These guys are neither hard to get or difficult to come by. The problem is not that we’re not looking for such guys, the problem is that most of us (even though there’re exceptions) are not attracted to them and we don’t want them, period. If I wanted to marry a guy who “brings 40% of income, charisma,” and so on, I would’ve had a harem by now. The question is: why would I want such a guy? On the emotional level, I’ve never felt attracted to guys who are “less man” than I, so to speak. I connect best with men who are leaders, like to be in charge, and I would very much like to relinquish control to such a guy rather than be a man in a relationship.

From the practical standpoint, a man who makes less than I do becomes a financial liability. After all, we women can have our own children, and push comes to shove, it would be much easier for me to just have my own kids and date whomever I want on the side without being financially responsible for them. So no matter how you look at it, I am better off alone than with a 60% guy. Personally, after struggling for some time with this issue and realizing that I need to start doing something differently if I am to succeed in my love quest, I have developed a new “multi-faceted strategy.”

I have undergone a rather dramatic makeover. I grew long hair and dyed it blond which gave me a softer, more feminine look. I gave all my trousers to charity and started wearing bright colored dresses and skirts and high heels. I began applying makeup routinely. I re-thought the way I speak and made an effort to not express any strong opinions. I stopped saying “I think” and started saying “I feel.” You get the idea. With respect to the type of men I am looking for — I still want those 95th percentile guys. Except they don’t have to be in that percentile in all aspects. I’d gladly date a 5’4’’ tall master of the universe who may lack external attributes of manliness but can make me feel special in so many different ways. Or, I’d date a law enforcement professional who may not make as much as a financial whiz, but is big, strong and can handle difficult situations and protect his family like no one else. Or, I could date a guy who is in a sense my “clone” but is substantially older than me (we’re talking 20+ years, considering I am in my late 20’s I have ample headroom there) and would therefore never feel competitive, but could rather be a mentor.

I am not in a steady relationship yet, but the quality of my dating life has improved dramatically, and I feel that I am a lot closer to finding that special guy than I was a year ago. So I guess the point I wanted to get across is that there’s compromise and there’s settling. And what you wrote about sounded awful lot like settling to me. I’d encourage other successful women to compromise instead, and on top of that to get in touch with their feminine sides and may be try to get a little less edgy. Hope this makes sense.

Dear Sophie,

I rarely run such long comments, especially ones that don’t have a question, but I’m guessing that your sentiments are held by enough readers that this post will resonate.

Let’s first start on the areas where we agree…and then allow me to dissect the rest of your letter like the relationship neurosurgeon that I am.

We can both agree that:

A woman in the 90th percentile has absolutely no problem finding a man in the 60th percentile.

A woman in the 90th percentile certainly doesn’t want a man who brings only 40% of the charisma.

Your dramatic makeover to embrace your feminine side is a smart strategy, which seems to have had a positive effect.

Your willingness to date different kinds of alpha males can be considered positive.

Smart woman. Smart approach. But here’s where you’ve either misquoted me, misunderstood me, or are simply misguided in your thinking.

Mainly, you’re misrepresenting my use of numbers and percentages, which skews your entire argument. If I actually said that you should compromise on a man in the 60th percentile of everything, then, yes, you’re right: I would be suggesting that you “settle.”

But that’s not what I said.

While most women look for a relationship that is 50/50 in all areas, it’s actually okay to find partnerships that have a 60/40 blend.

I said that while most women are looking for a relationship that is 50/50 in all areas, it’s actually okay to find partnerships that have a 60/40 blend. That does NOT mean he’s in the 60th percentile of all men. It means that if you’re a 10 in looks, he can be an 8. If he’s the more emotionally stable person, you can act a little crazier, etc.

This changes things considerably. Because while you’re talking about being with a man whom you don’t respect, I’m talking about a balanced relationship with equals who are stronger in some areas and weaker in others.

If this was your main misconception, that would be the end of the blog post. But it’s not. It’s clear that you have a few blind spots that are worth discussing. In no particular order:

You say you’re not attracted to guys who are “less man” than you. That’s fine. But it doesn’t seem you’ve considered a couple of factors:

1) The men who are “more men than you” might not want to date you. You may be stubborn or arrogant or difficult or selfish or critical, which are qualities that often come with people who think they’re in the 90th percentile of everything.

2) A man who is in the 95% percentile of everything (the only man who is “better” than you) may not be a great bet as a husband. George Clooney? James Bond? Charming guys — not great husbands. Most women spend their whole lives overestimating men based on their credentials rather than their character.

3) A man who can handle you — and wants to commit to you – despite your flaws, is the ideal man for you. It may come in the form of a nice, easygoing guy who doesn’t meet your strict criteria, not the “master of the universe”.

But that’s not all, smart Sophie. Next, you trot out this gem of a line:

“From the practical standpoint, a man who makes less than I do becomes a financial liability. After all, we women can have our own children, and push comes to shove, it would be much easier for me to just have my own kids and date whomever I want on the side without being financially responsible for them.”

A few questions, before we proceed:

A) Are men and women truly equal?

B) If the answer is yes, then we can conclude that if we make the same money, we should be treated the same exact way. Right?

C) If the answer is yes, why is your husband who makes $60,000 a year a financial liability while my wife who makes $60,000 a year is my best friend, lover, and partner in crime?

If I make $300,000 a year and my wife makes $60,000, I would be expected to support her, pay for every meal and vacation, and allow her to save her money for clothes, trips, and maybe the kids’ college education.

Yet if you make $300,000 a year and your boyfriend makes $60,000, he’s a financial liability? Come again?

Are you saying that men can date women who have no money, but successful women with their own money can’t do the same? What does that say about equality?

One of the big points of having your own money — at least as a man — is that you don’t have to be with someone else who has money. This keeps our dating options extremely wide, because it allows us to look for women who are attractive, cool and nurturing — without having to restrict ourselves to the top 5% of earners like so many women appear to, in spite of the fact that they’re already in the top 5% themselves.

Most women spend their whole lives overestimating men based on their credentials rather than their character.

As a well-off woman who is equal to a man, you really need to start seeing yourself as equal. Which means recalibrating the kind of guy who fits for you, the same way that most men do. From your letter, you talk about your propensity for alpha males, who are often the worst candidates for long-term relationships because they tend to be egocentric hunters.

And until you start to appreciate the virtues of the nice, cute guy with a stable job, a ton of integrity, and the desire to be a great dad, you may find that dating is a rough road for you. This fictional guy, by the way, IS in the 90th percentile — not based on his paycheck or his washboard abs, but based on his ability to be your husband.

Overall, Sophie, you seem like you know yourself very well. The only thing I’m questioning here is whether you truly know what’s good for you.

Compromise is good. Settling is not.

And a sane, funny, loyal, attractive man who makes $60K and forgives all your faults should be in any woman’s 90th percentile.

Thanks for your thoughtful email. Good luck.


P.S. By the way, in regards to this line, “it would be much easier to just have your own kids and date whomever I want on the side.” Go read Lori Gottlieb’s “Marry Him: the Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” for a glimpse into the dating life of a single mother. No time. No financial, emotional or physical support from a father. Not to mention that most thirtysomething guys want to date women unencumbered by responsibility. Hate to say it, but being a single mom is about the worst thing you can do for your love life. Sorry.


For a deeper understanding of what qualities you should be looking for in a man, I invite you to check out “Why He Disappeared — the Smart, Strong, Successful Woman’s Guide to Understanding Men and Keeping the Right One Hooked Forever”.

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  1. 81
    Karl R

    Jane asked: (#77)
    “What if you do understand everything that EMK is saying about making compromises, but still can’t change?”

    Then you’re kind of stuck where you were before you understood.

    Jane said: (#77)
    “I think that when people do fall in love eventually, it often doesn’t look like how they imagined- compromises are made. BUT these compromises just happen naturally as a consequence of meeting the right person. If you try it the other way around ( think you are compromising and then hoping to fall in love) it just doesn’t work.”

    You can meet the right person, but if you don’t give them a chance, nothing happens.

    I met my girlfriend 10 months before we started dating. We’d flirted a little. But, when I found out she was 16 years older than me, I decided that was a larger age gap than I wanted to deal with (even though I had dated several women who were older than me).

    It wasn’t until I changed my mind about dating her that things actually started happening.

  2. 82

    I love all your posts Helen..I hope I can keep my identity and still find a hubbie like yours 🙂
    shay @73: Hmm, well, maybe I’ve portrayed myself as more manish than I actually am! My hair is long and wavy and I always wear tight jeans and a little eye make-up. I think that there just isnt much I can do to look more womanly, because my face and body are so childlike (5’4″, flat-chested, androgynous face). Now that inception is out, I’m getting a lot of comparisons to Ellen Page, as I also did when Juno came out. I was looking at a red carpet pic of her with Marion Cotillard, and even though they are both wearing sexy dresses and make-up, there is just no denying that Marion is way more womanly looking, and Ellen still looks like a kid. Who’s the 30+ guy gonna hit on? *sigh*

  3. 83

    Oh and ps..don’t shop at forever 21! Their factory is down the street from ours and they have the worst sweatshop conditions and unfair pay! Yet they put a bible verse on all their bags. Hypocrisy anyone?
    (sorry for the double post Evan :P)

  4. 84
    Asian Internet Dating

    @C #4   You have real good list of qualities you want in your man…Do you think it is possible to find all these in one single man???

  5. 85

    Thanks, C. #83.   Ellen Page is a CUTIE!   Don’t worry about comparing her (and thereby, yourself) with someone else.   Guys like so many different things as far as appearance.   What they find universally appealing is a woman who is happy with herself and happy with others.

  6. 86

    Well. I read this text (and EMK’s previous blogs about settling and compromising) with a great interest, and decided to add my own thoughts about the matter.
    I have to admit, that I have bit of a contradictory feelings about this whole “settling”-issue.   To put it straight, it sounds quite desperate to me. (And what i have read from this and other date advice blogs, being desperate is the one of the surest thing to make man run away)
    I have seen some previously very picky women starting to settle and lower their expectations of men. And unfortunately many of them seem to go from totally picky to almost “any man is fine enough for me.” -type of thinking. Of course, I don’t know whether or not this is common, but perhaps there is a danger, that when woman start to think of settling, she will lower her expectations for man too much.
    For me, there is clear distinction between settling and being realistic with your expectations. It is good thing to lower your expectations   if they are too high   but it is important to really thought about the matter and make clear to yourself what things are too important to compromise and what things does not matter so much.
    (Oh, and I have to add   that English is not my native language, so sorry about all grammatical and other types of mistakes in my comment. Hopefully you can make at least some sense about what I intended to say.)

    1. 86.1

      Absolutely agree with you. I think some women can literally go from being very picky to at either a certain age or time in their lives to being desperate and lowering expectations too much. There is a line, and I think that comes from really knowing yourself and  being  honest on  what’s important to you.   You need realistic expectations.  

      Oh and I wouldn’t have known English isn’t your native language, I understood it very well!!    

  7. 87

    Karl R, I think your points are right. However, there are a lot of things unsaid in Sophie’s letter. We don’t know ALL that she is thinking or have considered. She could be along your track, you know.

    In addition, you talk about cultivating traits to attract the  husband and father of  her children  she is looking for. However, guys don’t seem to operate that way. Visuals come first. Attraction comes first. If she doesn’t attract, guys don’t bother to spend the time to know how she is. There are many many guys who don’t really operate like you do, you know.

    Btw, Sophie can change her mind before she gets married. I think if Sophie has thought through all that, getting married should be a big deal for her to think through as well.

    Dating is a learning process. Being in a relationship is another one too. I think she will learn along the way.

    Ppl, please stop talking like she’s heading straight for disaster. 😀

  8. 88

    To Karl @82,
    I understand what you are saying, but my point is that I have given a lot of men a try, even though there was no real chemistry to begin with. I don’t have any problem with given a guy a chance who may not fit the ideal picture of whatever I have in mind as a partner.   i’ve given short guys, poor guys, shy guys, etc.. a shot.
    It hasn’t worked out for me and it’s been about 5 years of trying to make things work. None of these relationships were bad, but just not enough to make me want to commit to life.
    So the question is, what do you do when you do give all kinds of guys a try and nothing is coming out of it? I’ve stuck it out for months and even years, but still, nadda.    I don’t even have any desire to date any alpha males.   The  assumption would be that I still haven’t changed at the core,etc. etc..   but I think the possibility exists that while we can do everything in our power to keep and open mind, sometimes, that is still not enough.   There is such thing as chemistry and if after a year it still doesn’t feel right, it’s only the right thing to do to move on.
    If a woman is single and in her 30’s, blaming her for being too unrealistic and picky is not always fair.   That’s the problem I have with EMK. It’s not always our fault. There is such thing as luck.

  9. 89
    Single dad in Texas

    Being a single mom is very hard and very expensive.   The salary of a nanny is going to be much higher than the  upkeep of a stay at home dad, not to mention much, much higher than the upkeep of a beta man  who still makes a real salary.   Plus  a father is probably going to do a better job raising your kids than a nanny would.

  10. 90

    The “acting feminine to get a man” thing can be a real mistake, in my opinion.   I don’t do the feminine thing really much at all — never wear skirts or heels, and didn’t even wear any jewelry or any makeup at all until a few years ago.   Believe it or not, I had a phobia of blowdrying my hair until last year.   I am 34 years old!   Most of my concessions towards femming it up in the past few years have been driven more by getting older and needing to look more professional, than by wanting to attract men. When I have felt like I needed to look more ladylike to please a man, it’s been a route to sure misery for me.   The ONLY way for me to make such changes in something so personal and intimate as appearance is out of a sense of really wanting to do it for myself, and enjoying the outcome.   Even now, I miss the days of really not giving a f*ck about what I looked like.   I feel somehow like I’m less myself now than I used to be.
    Even when I didn’t care at all what I wore, I never had problems attracting men, including so-called alpha males.   In my experience, a truly masculine man — meaning, one who loves women and loves being strong and decisive and getting things done — knows that femininity is a whole lot more than what a woman wears.
    Finally, I do sometimes run into men who have the great grace and tact to tell me I should dress up more so that I would be more attractive to them.   It’s almost like a litmus test, so I’m glad when it happens so I can immediately hit the eject button.   On one memorable occasion, I was discussing how I dress with a date in a bar.   He pointed out a miserable, uncomfortable looking, chunky girl (whose date had just hit on me while I was getting a drink at the bar.) She was wearing too much makeup and an   extremely unflattering (but fashionable-at-the-time) short, baggy dress.   My date told me, “see, look at her, she’s not as pretty as you but she’s trying her best to work it.   why don’t you?”   No, thank you.   I just wanted to give that girl a hug and tell her that we should go ditch our dates and have a beer together, wearing jeans.

  11. 91
    Karl R

    Jane said: (#89)
    “It’s not always our fault. There is such thing as luck.”

    You can’t control luck. Evan tells you which things you have control of that can improve your chances of finding someone.

    Jane said: (#89)
    “If a woman is single and in her 30”²s, blaming her for being too unrealistic and picky is not always fair.”

    Being unrealistic and picky (for both men and women) is a common flaw. Especially when people are dating online.

    Jane asked: (#89)
    “what do you do when you do give all kinds of guys a try and nothing is coming out of it?”

    Figure out why. I doubt it’s just a five-year run of bad luck. I doubt it’s because there’s a lack of good single  men out there.

    And if you want to find the answers, you’ll need to start by asking the right questions. (I don’t know the right questions for your dating problems.)

    Shay said: (#88)
    “you talk about cultivating traits to attract the  husband and father of  her children  she is looking for. However, guys don’t seem to operate that way. Visuals come first. Attraction comes first.”

    Sophie claims to be in the top 10% for attractiveness. That’s enough to get her foot in the door with most men.

    Men get a lot pickier than “attractive” when they are looking to marry.

  12. 92

    Yet another normal woman opinion, though I’m not sure I’m all that normal.

    Sophie, I congratulate you on starting to look inside and around you to take control of your situation.   It’s not an easy thing to change the way you dress and talk to better fit the dating environment you want to be a part of.   I caution you not to push things too far – you are allowed to have and defend your own opinions, so don’t subjugate them to someone else’s opinion.   But, it’s also not quite time to stop looking at your motivations and your dating pool.   It’s great that you are open-minded about age and other traits, but you might want to spend more time thinking about exactly what personality traits you want.   You may find yourself amazed to realize there are a ton of strong men out there (no comment on type of strength here) that you are overlooking because you are focusing on a type and not allowing yourself to see the signs of other types of strength.  

    Two parts of the letter concerned me most.   One is the “better than” comment.   Please look at why you feel that way or wrote that.   It’s a bit disturbing and not only sounds elitist, but will likely attract into your life people with some seriously undesirable traits.

    The other is regarding children.   As a single mom, I cannot stress enough that you should not have children this way.   Children need both parents, and the parents of children need each other.   The advantages of having two involved, loving parents that support and help each other are invaluable.   It creates a stable, loving environment for the children and provides a stable structure for both parents.   Intentionally starting a family missing one of the key components will add a kind of stress that you can’t fully understand until you have to deal with it.   It’s not fair to the kids, it’s not fair to you, and it’s just not good decision making if you have another option (like finding a good partner that will make a loving father before you have kids).  

  13. 93

    Sorry if this has already been said – I’ve only read about a third of the comments so far and not sure I’ll have the time to read the rest. But a couple of things I wanted to mention in response to Sophie’s letter:
    1) She seems to equate attraction strictly with being an alpha. On the one hand, to each – his/her own, but to me this is strange. I rate physical attractiveness based on, initially, physical attractiveness, and then additionally, as I get to know a person better, on things like personality and intellect (which can strengthen or ruin the attraction, of course). It appears, among other things, that she can be attracted strictly to a man’s wallet / power, and that’s not something I personally am able to comprehend.
    2) This preoccupation with “alphaness” for the sake of alphaness is counterproductive, on many levels. What Sophie doesn’t realize is that an alpha male, regardless of how his alphaness manifests itself, is not likely to make a good long-term companion. These men are hardly ever faithful and are hardly ever interested in starting a family. They also, by the virtue of being alphas, will constantly stir these feelings in all the other women you encounter. While seeing some interest in your partner from the opposite sex may be flattering, feeling like you always have to compete for him will get taxing, fast. That’s not to mention that at some point you won’t even be able to compete.
    This is its own topic, but did anyone here ever stop to analyze what the appeal of Twilight is, to women? Only let’s not forget that we don’t have the luxury of living in a fictional world.
    3) I still don’t see on which points exactly she decided to compromise – did I miss something? Was she referring to the makeover? Maximizing one’s attractiveness is hardly a compromise, in my estimation. Does an individual who loses weight really compromise? Actually, that’s not even a good example, since an overweight person needs to be healthy first and foremost for themselves. But let’s say something like hairplugs for balding men – is that something they are compromising on for the sake of a fulfilling relationship?

  14. 94

    To Karl @ 92
    I don’t think there is anything that you have said that I haven’t heard before. I am just saying that I think it IS possible that even after trying everything in your power. But I’m not unhappy in my situation and I have been married before. Unfortunately the relationship ended in divorce, but I do know how it feels like to want to share your life with someone. I don’t regret my marriage, but I do regret investing so much time in men who, if I have really listened to my heart, were not right guys for me.

  15. 95

    This discussion seems to be lacking direction… It is interesting how many people made a point that “alphas” were not worth pursuing, for whatever reasons, while that wasn’t the point at all, since this is clearly the type the OP prefers, and to each his own.

    I think the  main message here is that first,  that “alphas” come in different shapes and sized and you can’t be  fixated on just one type (i.e. compromise); and secondly, that you need to appeal to the “target audience”. I personally find it hard to disagree with either of these points

  16. 96

    Stacy, the point was that she might want to reevaluate what it is that she actually needs, IF she wants to be happy in her love life. While she does exhibit considerable self-knowledge, I am not sure how much she knows about the propensities of the men she automatically prefers.

  17. 97

    Agree with JuJu (#97). A number of characteristics of alpha males are likeable and preferable.  Similar to  Sophie, I do prefer  to have a guy who can lead  and is not passive in life.  But I think its best to make a list of personality/character traits of the person whom one wants to spend  a life with. Instead of having “a type”.

    Firstly, it can help one to see if one wants a person with “conflicting” characteristics. Which  would show if  it unrealistic.

    Secondly, dating options are widen when not restricted to “a type”.    

  18. 98

    It is dissappointing to see so many negative comments, they seem to be unearned. In fact, the author appears to have done everything ‘by the book’, according to the dating rules. She has acted appropriately by starting with improving herself — we as women are constantly told that the looks are the number one priority for men, so we focus on looks. Men want femininity, so she femmed herself up — that should certainly work. Instead of complaining that there are ‘no good men out there’ Sophie has invested in herself and worked on her appearence and demeanor. She should have been given credit for that. She has even gone as far as to censor her own speech for the sake of appearing more feminine. This should also work to her benefit because men often say they don’t like opinionated women. I personally would never do something like this, but maybe she is more ”žmalleable” as a woman so she can actually bring herself to it.
    I think what she is looking for is not necessarily a rich guy who can give her luxury. She is looking for traditional masculinity (which is a deficit in today’s West, unlike machismo which is still there). She is actually ready to settle to a very large extent as long as she gets this masculinity. Notice, she even mentions a guy in uniform, a law enforcement guy, who probably wouldn’t make a lot of money but would exhude masculine energy, be in charge of things, take care of the family and she would feel safe and protected around him. She doesn’t want to be the head of the household or the dominant partner in the relationship. This is why she wants the traditional male and she tries to turn herself into somebody that   a ”žtraditional male” would typically desire — a feminine, passive, ”žlittle”   lady. She is even willing to settle for a man 20 (!!) years her senior just to get this masculinity — this means that she is opening the door for a large pool of men who will take her with open arms. She is the traditional woman in her heart, and wants a traditional man, but those are scarce these days as most people are modern in their mating habits and lifestyles. I think this is why she gets so much unbased criticism.
    The part about the 90th percentile is indeed confusing. Whether that means that she considers herself among the highest 10% of all folks in terms of looks, income and outlook on world, is unclear. That’s not likely though as that would make her an incredibly rare person. Again, her main problem is that she is the traditional type of woman and won’t date down or choose a different ”žfemininity/masculinity” dynamic. It can be a handicap in today’s world. Other affluent and self-made women would pick another dynamic, another type of man. They would look for a more equal partnership with a cooperative man who wouldn’t necessarily take charge or provide for them, but would help in other ways in a complementary relationship.   
    There is nothing wrong in wanting to have a child while you’re still relatively young. It seems that more and more younger women will chose this option. Women will simply have no other choice if they want to have their own children as men are postponing commitment or giving up on marriage altogether. People in the younger generation don’t have any illusions about marriage anymore. We as women cannot wait forever until the men decide to commit and become good fathers. We don’t have as much time and we don’t want to miss out on our reproductive years. It’s better to at least have a child, no matter how it would affect your dating because the men will come and go but the child will always stay with you. There is no guarantee that you will find love even later in life and if you wait until your late 30s, you end up having neither a child nor lover. It’s better to plan such things than to leave it to the destiny and hope for the best. One might settle in that case for a guy who is ”žjust good enough” but that would mean unhappiness and also wouldn’t be fair to the other person whom you wouldn’t be truly in love with.

  19. 99

    Women like Twilight because of the sheer romanticism of it. It is about pure, metaphysical love – something that women dream about and want to experience since they are girls. It is a female fantasy – having a guy swear undying love for you and wanting to marry you. It’s a fantasy about a guy who is willing to commit and to give. This is in stark contrast to reality where many guys just want sex and instant gratification (and then run away). It is like porn – the women in porn are gorgeous and ready to do anything for you (even though it is not realistic), here it’s the men who are gorgeous and masculine and willing to do everything for the woman (and even  two men at the same time!). Jacob is like the ultimate fantasy boyfriend.

  20. 100

    @JuJu #97

    This is a fair point, but I didn’t see anyone here actually say that they know about “the propensities of the men she prefers” first hand, just more of popular stereotypes. Also, as someone who’s got that said first hand experience, both through work and in my dating life, I can tell that there’s plenty of playboys AND there’s plenty of decent family guys among highly successful men, so it would be incorrect to generalize their “propensities”.

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