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Posts Tagged ‘loneliness’

Loneliness — the new epidemic

In aging, behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, family, life, urban life, US on November 27, 2013 at 12:24 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Loneliness

Loneliness (Photo credit: FotoRita [Allstar maniac])

Powerful piece in The Globe and Mail:

In Vancouver, residents recently listed social isolation as their most pressing concern. More Canadians than ever live alone, and almost one-quarter describe themselves as lonely. In the United States, two studies showed that 40 per cent of people say they’re lonely, a figure that has doubled in 30 years. Britain has a registered charity campaigning to end chronic loneliness, and last month, health secretary Jeremy Hunt gave a speech about the isolated many, calling attention to “a forgotten million who live amongst us ignored, to our national shame.”

It is the great irony of our age that we have never been better connected, or more adrift.

The issue isn’t just social, it’s a public-health crisis in waiting. If you suffer from chronic loneliness, you run the risk of illness, and premature death.

“This is a bigger problem than we realize,” says Ami Rokach, a psychologist and lecturer at York University in Toronto, who has been researching the subject for more than three decades.

“Loneliness has been linked to depression, anxiety, interpersonal hostility, increased vulnerability to health problems, and even to suicide.”

The holiday season is a time of year when feeling unconnected, or disconnected, can be more painful than ever.

As someone who’s been working alone at home — with no pets or kids for company or distraction — since 2006, I know how isolating this form of employment can get. Yes, I can go to the library or a cafe to be surrounded by people, but that’s not the solution. They’re not friends.

I realized the other day where my community lies, and it’s not at all what I would have answered if you asked. It’s the YMCA in my small town. I go there three or four times most weeks, taking classes in jazz dance and choreography or using the work-out room. I also sometimes take pool aerobics. So every visit now means running into one of my teachers or a fellow student or a neighbor.

It feels really good.

Loneliness is something I’ve fought for years since I moved to New York in 1989, jobless, knowing only two people, my fiance (now my first husband) and a high school friend of my mother’s. To my dismay, she never bothered to invite me for coffee or, even though she worked in the same industry, make an introduction to anyone. It was very tough indeed.

Getting divorced five years after arriving here was also difficult. I had only one deep friendship, with a woman (sadly) since gone from my life.

Only in the past four or five years have I felt at home here, thanks to finally having found several good friends. No matter my professional achievements, it was a long, long time of feeling disconnected and unwelcome. When you live in a suburb, and don’t have kids or hobbies, it’s tough to find and nurture new friendships. And New Yorkers endure the nation’s longest commutes, their spare hours devoted tend to work or family.

This year, Jose is working on Thanksgiving but I’ve been adopted for the holiday — strolling only three doors down a warm, dry hallway on my floor to join friends for their Thanksgiving meal tomorrow.

I love this smart, creative solution. (Yay, Canada!)

The Vancouver Foundation has another answer: It is giving out grants of $500 to people who will organize a community event that brings strangers together – a knitting circle, an origami workshop, a pumpkin-carving jamboree. Mr. McCort attended one gathering recently, and was struck by an unfamiliar sight: “No one was on their phone, or checking email. There were a hundred people, just talking and making new friends.”

Do you feel lonely?

What do you do to try and alleviate it?

THIS WEEK’S WEBINAR IS “CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY”; 4:00 p.m. EST Nov. 30. I HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

DETAILS AND SIGN-UP HERE.

Are you scared to be alone?

In aging, behavior, business, cities, journalism, life, seniors, travel, urban life, US, women, work on October 7, 2013 at 12:01 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The best-read posts on Broadside include this, this, this — which all discuss the value of  travel alone as a woman.

Some people have an absolute horror of solitude. Too scared to go anywhere by themselves, they refuse to travel without a companion or go to a movie alone or sit in a restaurant without the reassuring comfort of someone across the table.

Shared Space Signage

Shared Space Signage (Photo credit: jarkatmu)

I don’t get it.

I know a few people who loathe being by themselves for any length of time, but I wonder why that is…if you’re healthy and solvent — as being alone when you’re really sick and/or broke is nasty –what’s the worst that can happen?

I’ve traveled far and wide alone, and am perfectly happy to spend time doing things solo, whether sitting at a bar, dining in a fine restaurant, attending a cultural event.

Maybe it’s because I grew up an only child and spent a fair bit of time on my own, reading, drawing, playing with toys. Maybe it’s a hold-over from years of shared space with too many strangers at boarding school and summer camp.

I like my space! I enjoy quiet solitude.

I lived alone ages 19 to 22 (then with a boyfriend), then ages 26 to 30 (then with my first husband), then alone for seven more years after my divorce.

Was I lonely? Sure, sometimes. I got weary of eating dinner while reading a magazine and having to leave my home for company.

But if you really can’t tolerate being by yourself, what does that say about the quality of your own company?

I work alone all day and, most days, speak only to people I am interviewing by phone or, occasionally, to clients or editors. It’s a little monastic, I admit, but I guess I’ve grown to enjoy it and even prefer it. I hate being interrupted. I lose focus.

Journalism, too, is really a business for loners. We rarely work in teams, usually off on our own stories.

Here’s a recent blog post about restaurants where you can sit at a long, shared table with strangers — in NYC, Vancouver, Portland, Oregon and others.

How do you feel about spending time alone?

Do you savor and enjoy it — or dread and avoid it?

Why?

Loneliness can be deadly

In behavior, blogging, cities, culture, domestic life, family, Health, life, love, science, urban life, US on May 15, 2013 at 1:59 am
Poster for a New York showing of Children of L...

Poster for a New York showing of Children of Loneliness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Caitlin Kelly

Can loneliness kill? Apparently so.

The New Republic, in this piece, argues in favor of being more social:

Teach a lonely person to respond to others without fear and
paranoia, and over time, her body will make fewer stress hormones and
get less sick from them. Care for a pet or start believing in a
supernatural being and your score on the UCLA Loneliness
Scale will go down. Even an act as simple as joining an athletic team or
a church can lead to what Cole calls “molecular remodeling.” “One
message I take away from this is, ‘Hey, it’s not just early life that
counts,’ ” he says. “We have to choose our life well.”

The story is long and complicated, and its underlying premise argues for more government funding for parents and young children.

But the larger point is an interesting one in a time when we are so connected by technology — thousands of you have signed up to follow me but will never meet me in person — yet often so lacking in true emotional and intellectual intimacy.

It took me a long, long time to make new friends when I came to New York. I was 30, and had always had very close friends and had made new friends easily. It was puzzling and miserable that I couldn’t seem to replicate that here.

But New York is a place where many people come with the absolute goal of making a lot of money and getting ahead and becoming powerful and famous — which all leaves little time to hang out for a few hours over coffee. New Yorkers also suffer the longest commute to work of anyone in the U.S., so even if someone likes you, they’re often sprinting for the 5:14 or the 8:22 back home to their own family.

I found the place annoyingly tribal; if you hadn’t attended the same schools as others, preferably an Ivy League college, you were simply persona non grata. College and graduate school as a sorting mechanism are powerful tools here.

I was lonely for a long time. In the past three or four years, finally, I’m happily starting to enjoy an active social life again, recently fielding two invitations to visit one friend in Pennsylvania and another at her house upstate. Last night, I met one friend, in from San Francisco, for a drink and another for dinner.

(Oddly, or not, they knew one another, having worked together decades ago for the same NYC book publisher and both [!] arrived with copies of their publishers’ new books for me to read. In addition to the three I had just bought {thanks, Danielle!}, I was now coming home carrying nine books!)

It feels really good to have friends you know for sure love you and are rooting for you. We need to be liked and valued, so see someone’s face light up with pleasure when they see us and lean in for a ferocious hug.

But building friendship also requires intimacy and intimacy takes time and effort, two things many of us have difficulty mustering up after a day of hard work (or looking for work) and commuting and caring for our families and pets and ourselves. Intimacy requires trust and being vulnerable and opening yourself up to someone new.

I paid a very high price for being lonely in 1998 when I became the victim of a con man. I was isolated, struggling financially, had not had a boyfriend in two years, was divorced and feeling as low and insecure as I ever have. The vulture swooped in — I was emotional roadkill.

After I survived that ordeal, I immediately joined a small, friendly local church. Living alone in the suburbs, without kids or any emotional connection to others living near me, I desperately needed community. I needed, and found, a place where I could feel safe again, and valued, and heal.

Have you ever felt terribly lonely?

What did you do to alleviate it?

Being alone is an art

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, women on May 7, 2012 at 12:11 am
Tattered Trunk Sadly this major oak in a pastu...

Tattered Trunk Sadly this major oak in a pasture North of Abberton Manor has given up the ghost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My 8th. most popular blog post — with 578 views so far — offers 12 tips on how to travel alone as a woman.

For me and for many women I know, of all ages, it’s just no big deal. For others, going to a movie or concert or eating a meal in public, certainly at a good restaurant likely filled with couples or groups of friends, remains a prospect so intimidating they refuse to even try. They feel conspicuous, lonely, out of place.

Pshaw!

If you fear doing things alone, you’re always going to be clinging to others, seeking the comfort or validation of their company, like a small child with a tattered blankie. Or, as many women do, choosing to hang onto any man with a pulse because then they’re not single and alone anymore.

(So not true. I was the loneliest of my life when married to my first husband.)

I think it also depends on the friends, family and community you live in, and your ability to ignore or withstand peer pressure. Not to mention housing costs!

I’ve spent many years alone, living alone, no man in sight , or certainly none who would be around for very long. I grew up an only child and grew accustomed to amusing myself — with books, art, music, friends, stuffed animals or Legos.

I left home at 19 and lived alone in a very small studio apartment. I did that until I moved in with a boyfriend at the age of 21 or 22 and lived with him until I was 25 and moved to France for a year. I returned to Toronto and we broke up and I lived alone til I was 30 and met the man I would marry. He and I divorced when I was 37 and someone else — seriously! — proposed to me within the month, a much older man who’d been lusting after me (who knew?) for decades.

I said no thanks, and lived alone until I was 43 when Jose moved into my apartment.

I never hated being alone. But it’s not easy.

Living alone costs a fortune, especially in the United States where, if you are self-employed or out of work, you must buy health insurance for yourself and it’s insanely expensive; in the late 1990s I was then paying $500 a month.

It can get really lonely, certainly as you age, if your pals are booked solid with caring for their husbands or wives and kids and grand-kids and work. Finding, creating and nurturing your own communities is essential to your mental and physical health.

Being alone, for older women especially, can mean descending into terrifying and degrading poverty, a very real issue for those who earned little, saved little and/or spent many unwaged years (without earning Social Security) to bear and raise children.

Being alone is apparently the new norm. From a recent issue of Time magazine:

The extraordinary rise of solitary living is the biggest social change that we’ve neglected to identify, let alone examine.

Consider that in 1950, a mere 4 million Americans lived alone, and they made up only 9% of households. Back then, going solo was most common in the open, sprawling Western states–Alaska, Montana and Nevada–that attracted migrant workingmen, and it was usually a short-lived stage on the road to a more conventional domestic life.

Not anymore. According to 2011 census data, people who live alone–nearly 33 million Americans–make up 28% of all U.S. households.

Here’s a fellow blogger who thinks this is a sad trend, especially for older people.

And here’s a new book on the subject.

Do you live alone?

How do you like it?

Sick At Home Alone? How Social Media Are Helping

In behavior, Health, Technology on March 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm
Day 6/365

Image by SuperFantastic via Flickr

I found this New York Times story compelling — selfishly — as someone recently largely confined to quarters recovering from a bad bout of osteoarthritis and a back spasm. Two friends, both self-employed writers, one living in a fourth-floor walk-up, are also at home with their own back issues. Comparing notes, checking in with one another and commiserating has made it more bearable.

Thank heaven for email and Facebook!

A diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness is bad enough — but the added, enforced social, physical and emotional isolation that often comes with it can make things a lot worse.

If you are, as many are, much younger than those typically facing a specific illness or condition, friends in your peer group may have no idea what you face, and may find it depressing or frightening to discuss.

If no one in your family has it — my Dad, 80, and I are comparing athritis meds these days! — who really understands your daily struggles?

You need people who get it and can help:

For many people, social networks are a place for idle chatter about what they made for dinner or sharing cute pictures of their pets. But for people living with chronic diseases or disabilities, they play a more vital role.

“It’s really literally saved my life, just to be able to connect with other people,” said Sean Fogerty, 50, who has multiple sclerosis, is recovering from brain cancer and spends an hour and a half each night talking with other patients online.

People fighting chronic illnesses are less likely than others to have Internet access, but once online they are more likely to blog or participate in online discussions about health problems, according to a report released Wednesday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and the California HealthCare Foundation.

“If they can break free from the anchors holding them down, people living with chronic disease who go online are finding resources that are more useful than the rest of the population,” said Susannah Fox, associate director of digital strategy at Pew and author of the report.

They are gathering on big patient networking sites like PatientsLikeMe, HealthCentral, Inspire, CureTogether and Alliance Health Networks, and on small sites started by patients on networks like Ning and Wetpaint.

Have social media helped you cope with an illness or injury?

Are You Lonely? Cornell's Three Suicides Raise The Issue Once More

In behavior on March 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm
Cover of "A Good Talk: The Story and Skil...

Cover via Amazon

Today’s New York Times carries a letter from the president of Cornell, a campus struck by three recent student suicides:

In a time of unrelenting connectivity, through Facebook, Twitter and our smartphones, paradoxically it is too easy to stop connecting directly with those most able to help our young people. What is the way ahead?

First, we need more research into the factors that lead to suicide in this age group and how to identify those at greatest risk. Second, on our campuses, we need to forge ever more effective partnerships among students, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators in support of our students. And third, students must learn that it is smart to ask for help.

The story about the suicides has prompted 258 comments, so far.

Some of you will remember the chorus to “Eleanor Rigby” a Beatles’ tune, about “all the lonely people — where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

I think about loneliness a lot.

I work alone all day in a suburban apartment. I can hear my neighbor’s voice through the wall that separates our living rooms — she, too, works at home, but is a deeply private person socially. I can hear the radiator hissing and the fridge humming and the wind outside. That’s it.

If I want to speak with someone, I have to pick up the phone — always reluctant to impose upon friends who are all busy parenting and/or working — or leave my apartment and set up a face to face meeting with a friend, many of whom live a 45-60 minute drive away, many of whom are already swamped with family, work, commuting. Sitting in the library or coffee shop simply surrounded by other people we don’t know isn’t the answer.

Two of my friends are, like me right now, also on medication and ordered to rest as we recover slowly from severe hip or back pain. It leaves us alone and isolated (thank God for email!) in our homes.

There’s an interesting piece on this by David Dudley:

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned conversation?

I’m not the only one who has been struck by the eerie quiet that surrounds us nowadays. “We have all these invisible walls built by iPods and cell phones,” says Daniel Menaker, who crusades for traditional, face-to-face connection in his new book, A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation. “Not to be apocalyptic, but I’m very worried. There’s a social obligation to be available in a public space.”

Though hand-held devices now encroach on some treasured preserves of good talk—restaurant meals, an afternoon at the ballpark, the privacy of your car—Menaker’s chief villain isn’t technology per se but our work-obsessed lives. A job culture that demands always-on connectivity is flooding our days and nights with the clipped conventions and I-want-it-yesterday expectations of the work-place. The result: a nation of hyperconnected hermits, thumbs furiously working our BlackBerrys, each of us a master of an ever-smaller personal universe.

And a new memoir about being lonely by Emily White, a Canadian former lawyer living in St. Johns, Newfoundland, recently excerpted:

I lived alone for six years in my 30s, and those years were a period of relentless, almost savage loneliness. I ate breakfast alone, ate dinner alone, went to sleep alone, and woke to an empty apartment. On weekends, if I didn’t have anything planned, I saw no one.

Through all of this loneliness, I couldn’t shake the sense that there was something profoundly wrong with me. I’m 40, and I’ve been described as a member of the “Friends” generation. That is, even if I was living alone, I was supposed to be part of a hip, sassy gaggle of friends — a group that would make me feel as though I were part of a family, as though I weren’t, in fact, so alone.

But I wasn’t Carrie on “Sex and the City.” I had lovely friends, but they were busy with jobs and families. My real family was on the other side of town, and my sisters were raising kids. My work (I was a lawyer) wasn’t particularly social, and I didn’t belong to clubs or a church group.

The aloneness began to unravel me. I didn’t feel able, as one selfhelp writer advises, to see myself as my own companion. I didn’t want to cook dinners for myself as though I were having company. I wanted real company, and without it, my life began to fragment…My sleep fractured: I fell asleep in the living room, above my neighbors’ den, so that I could hear them talking in the evenings…

In fact, everything I went through when alone and lonely was empirically normal. I’ve spent the past five years engrossed in loneliness research, and I’ve seen all my symptoms and traits — the headaches, the wakefulness, the warped eating — evidenced among lonely individuals.

I lived alone for many years, ages 19-23, ages 26-30 and for six years after my divorce. I know how loneliness can gnaw at your soul. The more lonely you feel the more needy and grabby you can become — so uncool! so not fun! — that friends withdraw or you pull away from them, compounding the closed loop of solitude.

I don’t find it very easy to make friends. I once did, living downtown in Toronto and Montreal. I found it terrifyingly impossible in the 18 months I lived — survived, barely — in rural New Hampshire, where my then-partner was doing his medical residency, therefore gone most of the time and exhausted and mono-syllabic when home. I have never felt so disliked. We’d entertain, and no one would reciprocate. Everyone was married, pregnant or breast-feeding and we had no kids or plans to have any.

I live now 25 miles north of Manhattan. I can see the Empire State building from my street. But days, weeks, can go by without human contact unless I initiate it.

I don’t think I’m any less likeable than before. My sweetie is a lovely guy.  We love to cook and entertain, (very rarely reciprocated), and are planning a party for next month.

But, here, I’m wildly unconventional — no kids, unmarried (long-partnered), low-ish income in a wealthy area, no graduate degree surrounded by doctors and corporate lawyers. People don’t know what to make of me, or find me (?) intimidating, I’ve been told.

So — I chat with neighbors in the laundry room, in the elevator, at the mailbox or garage. I chat with our local businessmen, whether Hassan who sells great cheese or Gregg, from whom I’ll be buying window caulk tomorrow or Jose, who works the counter at the dry-cleaners or Mike, the shoe repairman. I talk to my Mom and Dad more than ever before, far away in Canada.

People need face-to-face contact, warmth, humor, conversation. We need to share a laugh and a raised eyebrow. We need a sliver of free cheese (thanks, Hassan!) or a juicy bit of gossip (thanks, Aqeel, our pharmacist) or just knowing we do still belong to a larger community.

It’s a terrible taboo to even admit you’re lonely. Loser! It’s one major reason I went to work a part-time retail job, just to be around co-workers and to enjoy (as I often did) meeting customers.

Doesn’t everyone have a ton of pals eager to hang out with them?

No. Not when everyone seems to be staggering under the multiple and often competing demands of: school, grad school, family of origin, their own babies and kids, aging, ill or dying parents, often living far away, their partner, their work, their hobbies, their new side-business(es), health issues, their sports or recreational or musical commitments.

It’s a minor miracle anyone, anywhere, has time to talk.

Do you?

ChatRoulette Misses The Point — Sharing Physical Space

In behavior, Technology on March 5, 2010 at 1:39 pm
This false-color satellite image shows Manhatt...

There is, I am sure, someone here to talk to ...Image via Wikipedia

Get out of your home. Get off your computer or gadget.

Go sit in a bar/cafe/restaurant/bus/train/airplane/ferry boat/park. Strike up a conversation with someone who is a total stranger to you. Face to face. Share physical space and conversation with that person — unless they are endangering you — for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Can you do it? Will you do it?

It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s too hot. It’s too windy. I’d have to put my kid in a stroller. I feel fat today. There’s a big zit on my nose and no one will talk to me. They might not talk back. They might be mean or boring or stupid or not even speak English. What if they hit on me? What if they don’t?

Yesterday, I had a business meeting in Manhattan, in the lower 20s at Broadway. There are plenty of fun and cool restaurants nearby but I headed for one of my absolute favorites — The Old Town Bar, on 18th. Street, in business since 1892. The ceiling is dark brown painted tin. The lights are low-hanging and dimly-lit. The booths are battered wood, the floor old tile. The cash register has plastic keys and is made of metal.

I sat at the bar, as I almost always do whenever I am out and eating alone, and read my book and ate my burger. The guy to my left, a 20-something Master of the Universe in his $600 sport coat, Persol eyewear, his skis (?) propped against the bar, spent the whole time staring into his Blackberry. The guy to my right, two stools over, was nice enough to watch my coat while I went to the bathroom.

He looked to be in his late 30s, short, graying hair, wedding ring. I thanked him and started a conversation.

Turned out to be a smart and interesting computer guy originally from Ireland, in NYC as long as I, who came here for work with the same (God help us) stars in our ex-pat eyes. He and I shared notes on our favorite Manhattan 19th-century bars — “geezer bars” as he called them, The Landmark, Fanelli’s, The Ear Inn. Then I told him about my book and he suggested a writer I had never heard of whose ideas will likely be deeply helpful to me.

We both took a chance. I’m engaged and live with my partner, but I talk to strange men, and women, all the time. In person.

The moment wasn’t a flirtation in any way; he was wearing a wedding ring and I was only looking for a bit of chat. Two strangers, briefly and happily and thoughtfully, connecting. We didn’t trade business cards. Not the point.

What is so terrifying about sitting down and talking to someone you do not know in the same room?

You can always get up and leave. (Maybe not on a airplane, but just about anywhere else.) Maybe they will insult you. Maybe they will laugh at your jokes. Maybe you’re wearing the same color or love the same music on your separate little Ipods, but if you don’t take the risk of speaking, you’ll never know.

Even famously grouchy selfish New Yorkers are now — yes, really — sharing cabs. And liking it.

From today’s New York Post:

Who needs Facebook?

New Yorkers are making new friends and business partners in the back seats of shared taxicabs.

In just its second day, the cab-sharing program proved to be a great networking tool for several riders commuting yesterday from the Upper East Side to Midtown.

David Alper, a hedge-fund manager, and Adam Gehrie, a corporate financial-services lawyer, swapped business cards and agreed to set up a power lunch after grabbing a group ride from the stand at 72nd Street and Third Avenue.

“We should get together,” Alper suggested as the two exited their ride at 42nd and Park, the farthest the discounted rides will take up to four passengers

Along the way, they bantered about their educations: Gehrie said he attended Georgetown Law School, while Alper reported on his days at Antioch Law, both in Washington, DC.

“It’s a lot of fun to meet new people. I’d do it again,” Gehrie said.

Human beings are not cable channels to flip through at will and click away from the second they annoy or confuse or bore us. We need to connect. We need to connect deeply and intimately.

We are all going to die, some of us much sooner, some in truly agonizing ways that none of us even want to think about. I want my funeral filled with people who knew me personally, face to face, and cared for me. I want people all over the world — and they exist — to notice my absence, whether Matthew, the ggggggorgeous young man I met in 1980 on the train station platform in Huelva, Spain and traveled with for two weeks or Guillemette, my dear friend from Paris, or Pierre, the French truck driver with whom I shared his cab for eight days driving from Perpignan to Istanbul.

We couldn’t shower the whole time — hotels and motels cost money. My hair was filthy and my face broke out from constant road filth. We slept in the cab, his bunk maybe a foot below mine. I had never spent so much time so physically near anyone, let alone a strange man who spoke not a word of English.

I was 25 and he was 35 and we had never met and everyone I knew (it was for a story) thought I was insane.

Insane. How could I possibly do anything so risky?

Best eight days ever!

The way to make connections with strangers is not in ten-second clicks. The way to meet new people and learn how they think or feel or believe or pray or vote (or don’t) or what they eat for breakfast or who they read is not from the stupid safety of your machine.

Look into someone’s eyes two feet from you. Enjoy their perfume (or hate it) or their choice of socks or notice the little scar over their left eyebrow. Maybe they’ll tell you how it got there.

When I was 20 years old, I spent four months traveling along throughout Portugal, France, Spain and Italy. It was a really, really long time to be alone. If I wanted emotional contact with people I did not know, I had to negotiate it and do it safely. These are life skills.

You will not meet or get to know anyone when all you have to do to flee them is hit “next”.

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