update: my boss says he can’t hire me at his new company because he’s attracted to me

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager! All this week and next, I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose boss said he couldn’t hire her at his new company because he’s attracted to her? Here’s the update.

I did find the advice from you and the readers helpful – especially the people who said he was fishing and hoping I’d respond in kind. That perspective rang true to me and helped me let go of my embarrassment. But not my anger, ha.

I didn’t talk to HR – with him leaving, I didn’t trust that they would be helpful to me. I decided to be cooly professional to him for his remaining two months, but I’m not going to say my self-esteem didn’t take a hit. It was hard not to wonder – what’s my worth here? Was he only supportive of my work to this point because of the crush on me? If I leave, are people going to think I left because he left?

He did leave at the beginning of this year and took that other employee with him. I decided to stay and I did put my hat in the ring for his position but ultimately one of my other colleagues got the big promotion. I’m not bitter about that because she’s been there longer and has more experience – plus she and I work well together, and I did get a small one – I now oversee more people and job functions and I like my new role.

This guy has emailed me a couple of times since leaving with work-related questions and my first instinct was to hit “delete”! But I talked with friends and my husband and they all thought the best move professionally was to keep the professional relationship smooth and respond briefly and factually. So I did. Then I had a project come up at work and I knew this guy had a connection with an organization that could help provide some resources and information. So I emailed him to ask him to make an email connection, and crickets. That feels like a delayed retaliation for my lack of response to his interest, but at least it means I won’t be hearing from him any longer. Good riddance, and that helped me move on and reclaim some of my self-esteem about this too. Plus being successful in the more senior role has worked wonders too.

{ 110 comments… read them below }

  1. Aelstuart*

    I feel for the letter writer. Reading her initial submission to Alison gave me flashbacks to an interview I had early in my career where I was told by the interviewer (an older male, perhaps in his 60s) that I would be a distraction to the males and he couldn’t hire me. He also urged me to “dress more conservatively.” I was wearing slacks, a button-up shirt, and a jacket. I thought I was going to throw-up. People don’t just seem to get how weirdly traumatic comments like this can be when you’re just trying to do your job.

    1. BoksBooks*

      YUUUCK I’m enraged on your behalf! Being treated as less than human by someone who’s giving preference to those he believes would behave less than human is just terrible to go through.

      1. Vio*

        that is a very good way of wording it! as a man I’d feel insulted at the assumption that the mere presence of an attractive woman would be too distracting to allow me to do my job and as a human being I’m offended at being the same species as somebody who shows such a demeaning attitude towards women

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          Seriously! When I was in high school, I had a crush on my favorite male teacher. In fact, it was one of the biggest crushes I’ve ever had. Not only was I attracted to him, but he inspired me as a teacher and changed my life for the better in many ways.
          While it was frustrating to have such intense feelings for someone who I was never going to have a relationship with; I was able to control myself enough to refrain from acting on my attraction to him. If I could do it as a teenager, then so can a grown man.

    2. The Bimmer Guy*

      Wow. It doesn’t really matter what you were wearing, because that feedback is just garbage, but it does highlight how much it was his problem. I’m sure a discrimination lawyer would have loved to have a crack at that one.

      Unfortunately, it’s an issue that affects women and fem people disproportionately. And they are often indoctrinated in middle and high school (or, at least, they were when I was growing up). Girls would get sent home for wearing spaghetti straps, or wearing bras that made their busts look too prominent.

      In fact, I have a story about that:

      One of my best friends in high school–we will call her Valerie–and I were both in a pre-engineering program. This program included math, science and several engineering-focused elective classes. On the very first day, as we were all getting an introduction, the (sole) female instructor pulled Valerie and a few other girls out into the hallway. You know what she told them?

      “Stop wearing such low-cut tops; you’re distracting the boys.”

      I was floored when I found out. Fortunately, Valerie’s mother was a tenured civil engineer who was able to set the record straight on that one. But it’s incidents like that that create generations of women and fem people who believe they’re responsible for how other people perceive their bodies–in the workplace, and in general–and get unfairly penalized, sexually harassed, or worse because of it.

      1. Veryanon*

        This is giving me flashbacks to when I was 16 (many years ago) at my first job as a cashier at a now-defunct big box store. I was a very slender girl and could often get away without having to wear bras (but I was always appropriately covered). One time I reported to work wearing a loose-fitting sweater over a tank top – no visible nipples or anything like that. The manager took me aside during a break and made me put on a *smock* over my sweater so no one could tell I wasn’t wearing a bra. My mother had a fit when I told her about it later.

        1. Beanie*

          Ugh, flashbacks for me as well. I started wearing a bra in third grade, and naturally kept fiddling with the darn thing. Later, my teacher pulled me aside at lunch, told me to stop fiddling with my clothes because it looked like I was playing with myself, and that I was going to distract the boys. Might I reiterate, I was 8.

          1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

            I proudly identified as a “total tomboy” during my childhood of the 80s/90s and dressed “like a boy” as my mother often lamented. And even I got in trouble at school more than once for “dressing to entice/distract the boys.” Disgusting. Weirdly, “the boys” never seemed to care. If they noticed my clothes at all, it was to ask why I never wore “girl stuff.”

            (That’s a lot of “quotation marks,” haha.)

            1. MBK*

              “You might distract the boys” is almost always shorthand for “you’re distracting the adult men” which is even worse.

          2. Irish Teacher.*

            That is horrific. I know when I was 8, I wouldn’t have had a clue what she was implying – probably wouldn’t gave had at 15, come to that. But your teacher was essentially making sexual typed comments to an 8 year old! Not that it would be OK to say it to a teen either, but still.

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        My petty side would have wanted to show up for the rest of the week in a full out floor length ball gown. I’m glad Valerie’s mom has her back!

      3. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

        Similar situation, 8th grade, I already had (and have) a larger sized chest, wearing a t-shirt that wasn’t see through, low cut, or otherwise in dress code violation. A teacher pulled me aside and told me that I had to wear a sweatshirt because she and the other teachers had discussed my attire at lunch and they “weren’t sure I was wearing a bra.” (I was.) It was September and still sweltering hot. I was mortified for the rest of the day, sure I had done something wrong, and wore baggy tops well into college.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I can quite understand why Stitch would have felt mortified at the thought of the entire table of teachers discussing her clothing and anatomy.

    3. Unkempt Flatware*

      I used to work as a painter in full cover-alls and a hard hat and I was told I needed to dress more appropriately because my figure was visible through the thick denim. I guess I should have worn a Missy Elliot trash bag from Superfly.

    4. Critical Rolls*

      “Your body is discernibly feminine. As we all know, that’s inappropriate in the workplace.” What is WRONG with these people?

    5. DataGirl*

      Even when I wore full suits with a button up blouse I got comments because boobs. Years of workplace harassment led me to become so paranoid about showing any cleavage or the existence of curves on my body that it spilled into my personal life and now I’m deeply uncomfortable wearing anything form fitting or that shows any skin. And that makes me sad.

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        For the longest while I used to walk with a slouch to try and make my breasts less visible. It wasn’t even something I did consciously; it wasn’t until a friend pointed the slouching out that I realised I had been doing it.

        1. wet-coaster*

          I have slouched since puberty basically hit me in the chest with a brick. It started partly as self-consciousness, and continued as complete discomfort with my body* and some muscular issues.

          Cue early this year, when the constant slouching strained some small shoulder muscles enough to send shooting “can’t move” pain down my arm. I literally inured myself because I’ve always been uncomfortable in my body (my posture is getting better now). I really hope you were able to stop the slouch when you realized you were doing it.

          *I’m non-binary; I have a weird relationship with my body after years of trying to make myself accept it. It’s like an ill-fitting dress shirt that other people like to tell me I should love.

          1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

            I’m non-binary; I have a weird relationship with my body after years of trying to make myself accept it. It’s like an ill-fitting dress shirt that other people like to tell me I should love.

            As a fellow enby, who also looks terrible in dress shirts that people keep telling me I look great in (have to wear them for work), this might be the best description for my body I’ve ever heard. X D

            1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

              Not sure why there was a space in my smiley, but okay, we’ll go with it, I guess, haha!

    6. Area Woman*

      It is sexual harassment. Inflicting trauma is PART of it. It’s about keeping people in their place. I’m sure it had nothing to do with your attire and everything to do with being threatened that you were a competent woman.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        “It’s about keeping people in their place” – exactly this. It’s about reminding you that first and foremost, you are your body, you are a sex object, and that will be true no matter how competent you are at your job or how good a person you are or…or…or. It’s inherently reductive and belittling, and it’s gross.

    7. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

      Did he want you to wear a burka? From all these comments from women who got comments (even as little girls!), it’s being a girl/woman that distracting, not what she’s wearing.

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        “Pocket Venus” is how one old man described me. He gave all the women the crawling cringies, but he commented that he could look down my cleavage and see that I “wasn’t stuffing”. ??!!

        When I was thirty, and it was time for a reconstruction surgery, the doctor wanted to know the bra size I wanted- I said 32B, and she was going to order my implants- until an older doctor insisted that bigger implants were “necessary”.

        For whom?

        1. WoodswomanWrites*

          Oh hell no, that is terrible! I’m so angry about this and sorry you had to go through it.

    8. Luna*

      “Instead of telling me to dress more conservatively, how about you insist that you and the ‘males’ learn to not get distracted because an XX-chromosome person is existing near them?”

      I have little to no patience for comments like that. I will throw professionalism out the window (them saying that isn’t professional, either, so I feel no reason to keep my own professionalism up) and give them my snark to show them their horrible mindset. Maybe it’s a hope that, the more openly blunt you are about these comments, the more people are likely to realize what they say is wrong or, at the very least, shut up with such comments.

    9. Not a mouse*

      I think “dress more conservatively,” when you were already fully covered, meant “Women should wear skirts and heels. Because I want to look at their legs.”

  2. Hills to Die on*

    He is absolutely craptacular. Glad it all went well for you and good riddance indeed.

  3. Amber Rose*

    Although this is a great update, and I’m really, genuinely happy that things have worked out well for OP… the lack of consequences for that guy bothers me so much. Like, who knows what crap he’s putting other women through?


    1. Critical Rolls*

      Very much agree. I hope karma slaps him with a week-old haddock in the near future.

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        I misread this as “I hope karma slaps him with a week-old haddock in the rear” and honestly, that works too!

        1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

          (Also, getting slapped in the rear with a week-old haddock is TOTALLY something that would happen on Critical Role.)

          1. quill*

            You’ve heard of pocket bacon from campaign 2, now campaign 3 gives you week old haddock!

            1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

              I feel like Fearne would be behind this, but really, it’s anyone’s game!

              (They would also all be terrible coworkers in the office, in different ways. I want an AAM AU of this.)

              1. quill*

                See, with the Bell’s Hells the office would probably not still be standing, their record with doing jobs in buildings is not good. (Though the crown keepers aren’t necessarily better… given the whole thing with the balcony.)

    2. Sloanicota*

      And it’s so common that women feel like they have to make nice and appease these guys forever even after they leave the situation – because there’s a power imbalance that you can never quite overturn. It sucks.

  4. INeedANap*

    I am so sorry for OP that she was doubting her own worth. I am so glad she was able to reclaim that confidence!

    I also feel sorry for that guy’s wife. Even while married we may notice other people are attractive, but if it’s at the point where the attraction would interfere with work it’s gone too far.

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      For me it wouldn’t be about jealousy that my husband finds another woman attractive, it’s that he abused his power by deciding to unburden to his victim about it.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        What you said. Crushes happen—there is no need to drop an emotional load on them. Doing that to your employee, ugh gross (and possibly illegal).

        1. BoksBooks*

          I was wondering if OP had any legal recourse in a discrimination or harassment sense. She did lose out on a job offer due to her sex.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      I feel sorry for his wife – this type of person is very often married to a genuinely nice, trusting sort of spouse – because she’s married to a serial creep. Yes, serial. This is his schtick and I sincerely doubt OP was his first rodeo. How ROMANTIC to do that whole ”love that couldn’t be denied” thing, star-crossed lovers cliche, and obviously it would have worked along the way.


      1. Christmas Carol*

        Yes, because the other type of woman dumps his butt the first time the tries it.

      2. Cedrus Libani*

        IME every creep is a serial creep. Nobody creeps every once in awhile. It’s all or nothing.

        1. Lucy Skywalker*

          Though there are the type of people who are creepy without realizing they are being creepy; because they are immature or have difficulty reading subtle hints or nonverbal communication. However, once these people realize that their behavior is creepy; they will typically be mortified and stop doing the creepy behavior (unless they’re assholes).

  5. Office Sweater Lady*

    Despite this guy being such a jerk, I think this was a good update from the OP. I think she should be so proud of how professionally she behaved in the face of him being totally unprofessional. Now that he’s out of her life, she can feel free to move on to being awesome away from him!

      1. Myrin*

        And I just realised that this could be misunderstood as meaning a literal boss – we are on a work advice column, after all – so let me make it clear that it’s meant in the sense of “super awesome and professionally badass”.

        1. DarthVelma*

          I have a new life goal…to do something so awesome that someone refers to me as “professionally badass”. :-)

          And I totally agree that OP fits that description to a T.

  6. socks*

    I’m glad it all worked out, and it sounds like you’re in a way better position! :) I’m so sorry he kept bothering you for a while and then ghosted you when he could actually be helpful (wonder how the Creepy Ex Boss apologists are going to explain that one), but at least it frees you of the burden of trying to “smooth” the relationship.

    1. GravyandPotatoes*

      This is classic. He actually doesn’t WANT to be helpful, he just wants to perpetuate the power dynamic of him over her. Once SHE could have benefited from the professional relationship, he no longer saw the value.

      Just ugh.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah that part was like a negative cherry on top of the cake. The last sludgiest layer of sludge on rock bottom?

    1. HigherEdAdminista*

      Seconding this.

      We don’t live in a just universe, but I hope somehow he finds himself in a position to get exactly what he deserves. OP treated him with respect and professionalism that he didn’t deserve even 1% of, helped him when he didn’t deserve a response, and even then he wants to be petty and try to harm her in the little ways he could.

      OP, definitely don’t let him impact your opinion of yourself. He belongs in the bin –human trash! You are doing well in your new role and hopefully will only have positive experiences from here on out.

  7. A Simple Narwhal*

    Ugh, may that guy constantly step on legos barefoot and may every time he wash his hands may he get his shirt wet, no matter how careful he tries to be.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*

          I typically add “on a hardwood floor” to the “step barefoot on a Lego” curse myself. Because yeah.

    1. MEH Squared*

      I love the wet t-shirt addition to the standard ‘may he step on Legos’ curse. It really makes it pop (and I completely agree this guy deserves both).

    2. Aww, coffee, no*

      Let me add: may his pillow never have a cool side and may there always be toast crumbs in his sheets.

    3. Petty Betty*

      May his socks and shoes always be slightly damp. Not wet enough to need a dryer, but damp enough to cause irritation. Warm damp when it’s annoying, and cold damp at the worst times.

      And may all of the seams of his clothes be loose and find themselves coming undone.

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      My favourite curse that I have ever learned is (I think) Egyptian and I wish it upon this guy: may the fleas of a thousand camels infest his armpits.

      1. Lucien Nova*

        Mine is “may a Canadian not apologise to you” or “may you have the bladder of a flea and no rest stops within a hundred miles”.

    5. Camellia*

      Guys like this probably don’t wash their hands. Just another part of how disgusting they are…

  8. anonymous73*

    Do yourself a favor and block him so he can no longer contact you. It’s not worth maintaining any type of relationship with him professional or otherwise. I’m glad it worked out in the long run.

  9. Observer*

    This guy has emailed me a couple of times since leaving with work-related questions ~~~ snip ~~~ So I emailed him to ask him to make an email connection, and crickets.

    Of course it was retaliation. And all of the people who are claiming that this guy was somehow trying to do the right thing, etc. need to see this for what it actually is. He was hitting on the OP, and when she clearly and definitely, but very professionally, refused his overtures, he decided to drop her in the one place he could have helped her with absolutely ZERO impact on his marriage. So, please recognize just how gross that excuse was.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      He emailed her with work related questions in one last hope that she’d change her mind and say “let’s meet up for drinks!”

  10. Caroline Bowman*

    and the kicker where, after you remained perfectly nice to him and worked as best you could with him, answered his questions… he openly didn’t bother to respond when you asked him for a professional small courtesy?

    That guy is A KEEPER. Aren’t you sorry you didn’t dump your husband and your career and run off into the night with him?

    1. I&I*

      Oh, I don’t think he was planning to run away with anyone. He couldn’t do that to his wife, after all! No-strings hook-ups he could blame the OP for is what he wanted, I bet you a dollar.

  11. The Tin Man*

    So many updates that I’ve been wanting. I know you know this, but this guy is crappy and did that whole thing about him. I’m sure he convinced himself he was doing something noble because he’s a Nice Guy.

  12. Healthcare Manager*

    It is not unprofessional to delete emails from someone who harassed you, especially who’s now at a different workplace. You owed this person nothing.

    Deleting those emails would have been professional too. Not everyone who emails you in a professional sense requires a reply.

    1. Carol the happy elf*

      But it’s good to also keep them in case you or someone else needs evidence of his turd-hood.
      In one workplace, back in the early days of email, several of us were getting sexually based, sexually charged, and even threatening emails from one coworker. We kept them even though there was limited space, than after a few months we copied them to a floppy disk, passed it around for the next female coworker who did the same, and took the (copied!) disk to HR. The sleeve said “Copy 5”, and he STILL didn’t get his butt fired.


  13. Lady Blerd*

    Eff him and good on you for not letting him rattle you. And congrats on your professional progress.

  14. Delta Delta*

    A. F that guy.

    B. Sometimes you get a crush on someone through work. If you’re a normal grown-up human being you don’t, you know, do anything other than feel silly that you feel like a 6th grader with a crush on someone. You wait til it passes and then you just internally laugh at yourself.

    C. Bravo on OP doing well. Maybe she’ll write in again with an update that says the guy ended up having all sorts of scandals and his business imploded and she’s gotten a promotion. We can hope.

  15. Cake or Death?*

    “This guy has emailed me a couple of times since leaving with work-related questions”

    I’m guessing these were just “feelers” for him to see if maybe you would react differently now that you weren’t working together anymore. When he realized you weren’t going to, he bailed.

    What a creep. Ugh.

  16. Bookworm*

    Eeeesh. I’m glad that hopefully he took the hint and won’t bother you anymore. I am sorry that happened to you but am glad you did at least get a small promotion and you do work well with the person who did get the job. Good luck and thanks for the update!!

  17. Tobias Funke*

    May his marinara never cling to his pasta. So happy to hear you are no longer internalizing his BS. Living well is the best revenge.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Adding this to my stockpile of curses I’ve picked up from AAM (also includes those by A Simple Narwhal and others above). *chef kiss*

  18. Fez Knots*

    I’m surprised so many people encouraged the LW to continue the “professional relationship” with this person despite his harassment. I would argue once he made those comments, there was no professional relationship, which was only proven in the end, it seems.

    Let’s normalize discontinuing relationships like this!

    There’s always other resources and professionals who are willing to provide support while not sexually harassing women in the workplace. Those people don’t deserve YOUR side of the relationship anyway. No one is obligated to continue a relationship with anyone who makes them feel icky, work or personal.

  19. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

    This guy has emailed me a couple of times since leaving with work-related questions
    the best move professionally was to keep the professional relationship smooth and respond briefly and factually. So I did.
    Then I had a project come up at work and I knew this guy had a connection with an organization that could help provide some resources and information. So I emailed him to ask him to make an email connection, and crickets. That feels like a delayed retaliation for my lack of response to his interest

    As someone else said, his other emails to you were totally feelers to see if you’d fall for his charms now that he wasn’t your boss, and that last bit was DEFINITELY retaliation when you didn’t “fall in line” with what he wanted. It’s so common, I was actually expecting this part of your update when I began reading.

    But what a wonderful thing he’s done for you (while screwing himself over, to boot)! You now know you can delete all further emails from him without reading, without guilt. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend setting up a filter that sends everything from his name/email addresses straight to trash, spam, or a folder you never check unless you want to. Then proceed to never think about him again, unless you’re telling the story so people can laugh at him.

    I really needed this catharsis, BTW! I’m dealing with a coworker who laid a surprise feelingsdump on me when I thought he was just going to be sending me progress reports. He very blatantly and awkwardly avoided me for a few weeks after I shot him down (not single, and not interested), which I was fine with, but now he’s back to making excuses to go into the break kitchen when I’m in there by myself. I’m very good at ducking out the other door so I don’t have to deal with his self-centered feeeeeeelings. Dude’s also married with kids and has not told me about his wife and offspring himself. (If you’re gonna try to cheat on your spouse, maybe don’t have social media profiles full of family photos.)

    His reasoning for why he assumes I was into him is because I always talked to him and smiled when he came in. Readers, I. Am. A. Front. Desk. Receptionist. Being polite and acknowledging people is literally my freaking job! He’s not the first guy to assume doing what I’m paid for means I must want in his pants, but he’s being the most annoying about it so far. Thankfully, I work under the HR department, and if he escalates, they’re just around the corner from the front desk. So is security.

    1. allathian*

      Ugh… I actually enjoyed working retail as a student for the most part, because the working conditions weren’t too bad and my coworkers were great. But I Do. Not. Miss. these Creepy McCreepers who thought they were God’s gift.

    2. Zweisatz*

      Ugh! As somebody who has dealt with the same creepiness at work once, please don’t feel like you need to keep this under wraps. It’s fine to tell a colleague or your boss or HR, given that this affects your work life. Optional telling him one time beforehand to get his shit together and treat you normally. Feeling for you!

    3. Emmy Noether*

      Oh god, this reminds me of the TA who was just *baffled* I shot him down, because – get this – I always looked at him when talking to him in class.

      And that isn’t my only story, either – just the one that makes me roll my eyes the most.

  20. Kora*

    Y’know, guys used to complain about being put in the friendzone, but nobody really talks about how damaging it is to suddenly discover that a friend or colleague has put you in the f**ktoy zone. Really glad you’ve recovered your confidence and are enjoying your new job, OP. Keep reminding yourself that his terrible behaviour is no reflection on you.

    1. Luna*

      Anyone who talks about ‘being friendzoned’ is probably the type of person like this boss.

  21. Totally For Sure*

    It makes me sad and mad how men can get away with awful behavior with women, especially when they directly manage or hold a position of power over the woman.

  22. idwtpaun*

    F that guy, OP.

    Glad you’re doing well! And while I don’t believe in karma or a fair world, the more you continue to do well, the more it costs him that he blew this professional connection.

  23. Nameless in Customer Service*

    OP, you handled this Like A Boss as the saying goes.

    Also, I’m quite relieved that all the commenters this time around agree with the LW that the manager’s behavior was unconscionable, considering how many commenters to the original post defended the guy up one side and down the other. Maybe at least some things are possibly improving.

  24. A Wall*

    I would just like to submit this update in response to every dude who’s ever said some variation of “yeah well it’s easier for women in [thing] because the dudes there who wanna eff them will help them / give them things / cut them slack.” Because that’s LITERALLY NEVER HOW IT ACTUALLY WORKS, this is how it works.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      It might work that way at first, but then it stops once she doesn’t return his feelings.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        And even when it “works”, it’s almost never things we actually want. I don’t want inefficient “help” from someone trying to steer the conversation to private things. I don’t need to be cut extra slack and be given the easy projects that don’t teach me anything. I don’t want to be given chocolates, or coffees, or whatever.

        I WANT respect, and interesting projects, and to be fucking listened to when I talk. Those are never the things those guys give.

  25. The Envelope Please*

    LW, if you have this letter to AAM saved in your personal email ( your personal email not work), keep it. If not, email yourself (personal email) about it and leave it filed. Email provides a date stamp. You likely won’t need it, but you will be glad of it if you do.

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