Men can’t “opt out.”

When I was in college, my friend “Jay” and I both knew a young woman, and as it happened I spent some time with her on a day after she’d gone on a date with Jay.   She and I didn’t talk much about the date, but she implied in passing that Jay had  been too “touchy” and that she was “not impressed” with his behavior.  She didn’t say anything beyond this, nor did she seem interested in further conversation on the subject.  So I voiced an expression of dismay about what she’d told me – I don’t remember exactly what I said – and then we talked about something else.

I thought about this while I was listening to Hugo Schwyzer’s recent lecture about sexual consent.  His idea, in a nutshell, is that the absence of a “no” does not mean that a sexual experience is non-coercive or ethical; that men should not view a “no” as merely a “stop sign”; that women must learn to assert themselves in sexual situations; and that a situation in which a woman “gives in” to a man’s persistence results in a deflated sexual experience for both partners.  True consent entails a mutuality of feeling, without which neither partner enjoys a truly intimate erotic experience.

True enough.  The problem is, it’s only half of the story, and building a better sexual culture will involve more than merely following that advice.  The other side of the equation (which I offer in a very oversimplified form) is this:

Good men need to be taught that it’s okay to pick up and seduce young women.

Now, you may think that is awful.  Awful – an expression of exactly the kind of thinking about stereotypical gender roles that is part of the problem.  But to acknowledge that men face different challenges than women is, in itself, not necessarily such a bad thing.  To explain why, let me mention two belief systems that I believe stand in the way of a better sexual culture:

The first destructive belief system is the hyper-masculinized one:  The belief that it’s a man’s “job” to do certain things:  make the first move, seduce the woman, always be powerful and confident, and so on.  This belief system usually has roots in evolutionary biology, and begins with the premise that male and female sexual behavior has strong biological underpinnings (true, generally speaking), but then reaches the false conclusion that, therefore, men and women are somehow ethically compelled to follow stereotypical sex roles for which they are “programmed.”  This mistakes descriptive scientific conclusions for prescriptive ethical imperatives.  And of course, this kind of thinking is very limiting for both men and women.

The second belief system is the opposite of the hyper-masculinized one.  Call it the “ideal world” belief system:  The belief that in an ideal world neither gender would be forced into rigid roles.  And that’s fine, as far as it goes.  In fact, it’s very liberating.  The problem is, the “ideal world” belief system is usually followed by an unfortunate corollary belief, a belief that is especially pernicious because it goes unspoken and unacknowledged:  Rigid gender roles are bad, therefore men should not be taught how to function within the traditional masculine role, and we should not even acknowledge the ways in which young men often have little choice, in a sexual setting, but to behave in a way that is traditionally masculine.

And I think this begins to explain why, as Hugo said, young men become so angry when they listen to his lectures about consent.  They become angry because he frames the problem as “young men are taught not to take no for an answer” – with the implication that men need only be less aggressive sexually, and then everything will be great.  And this is dishonest.  Men become angry when they hear this, because he’s communicating that men choose their sexual roles, when often they to not.

I think young men would become less angry at Mr. Schwyzer’s lecture, if they were given the following “opt out” option:

Welcome to life.  You are now entering a world in which young men who are aggressive and dominant are significantly more sexually successful than men who are shy.  You are now entering a world in which women are going to test you.  If you show that you are vulnerable or if you lack confidence, women are probably not going to view you as a fully sexual person.  If you would like to live in this world, please check here ______.

If you would like to opt out of a world in which dominant, confident men are preferred as sexual partners, and would rather be transferred to an alternate universe in which heterosexual men can experience the same amount of sexual pleasure as gay men, without the need to be “suitably masculine,” please check here ______.

The problem is, when young men sign up for life, nobody gives them this kind of “opt out” form to fill out.  Or as Camille Paglia put it:

A major failing of most feminist ideology is its dumb, ungenerous stereotyping of men as tyrants and abusers, when in fact-as I know full well, from my own mortifying lesbian experience- men are tormented by women’s flirtatiousness and hemming and hawing, their manipulations and changeableness, their humiliating rejections. Cock teasing is a universal reality. It is part of women’s merciless testing and cold-eyed comparison shopping for potential mates. Men will do anything to win the favor of women. Women literally size up men- “What can you show me?”- in bed and out. If middle class feminists think they conduct their love lives perfectly rationally, without any instinctual influences from biology, they are imbeciles.
– Camille Paglia, Vamps & Tramps, p. 35

Okay, I just quoted Camille Paglia and so I probably lost two-thirds of my readers, who are going to write off what I’m saying as the tired, old, misogynistic women-don’t-like-nice-guys argument.  And that’s unfortunate.  Because it doesn’t help to ignore the fact that young, heterosexual men often find themselves in a gladiatorial sexual arena, whether they like it or not.

Back to my friend Jay:  If he was too “touchy” on his date, it was not because he’d picked up a macho ethic from his family.  His left-wing, pacifist parents raised him to be anything but macho.  If he was too “pushy,” it was not because he had a self-image as an aggressive, tough guy.  Jay, like me, had endured his share of being pushed around by the tougher kids back in high school.

The fact is, whatever Jay did that “didn’t impress” his date, he did because he had no clue as to what to do.  And progressive, feminist thinkers won’t help to clue him in, because they seem to have agreed to pretend that the gladiatorial sexual arena doesn’t exist.

And here, I should point something out about Hugo Schwyzer:  He has said, in his writing, that as a young man he never had much problem meeting women and getting into relationships.  And this makes it easy for him, and the feminists who take his experiences as being representative of most men, to write off or minimize the difficulties of men for whom meeting women is difficult.  I also think there is a tendency to pathologize involuntarily celibate men.  To assume, for example, that a young man who cannot find a partner must have Asperger’s Syndrome, or some kind of fatal personality flaw.  This strikes me as an evasion, and what I suggest is that we acknowledge that a young man is often unfairly expected to know what he is doing in a sexual situation, even if, as was probably the case with Jay’s date, the woman he is with is more experienced.

It may sound like a paradox, but an important step in getting beyond restrictive sex roles is to acknowledge that they exist.

*            *            *

…And, by the way, if you’re interested, here’s well known Pick Up Artist Neil Strauss, on “The View”:

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26 Responses to Men can’t “opt out.”

  1. Paul says:

    This is a fairly brilliant analysis, and it meshes perfectly with what I’ve seen/experienced in my own life.

    It’s too bad Hugo, if he ever reads it, will just write it off. After all, you’re a man, and Hugo doesn’t listen to men.

  2. Valerie says:

    Maybe Jay’s date just didn’t want to have sex on the first date.
    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get to know someone.
    When a person is hyper-horny then tend to sexualize everyone around them whether or not they were being receptive or not. A woman can smile at a man out of politeness and he sees that as cock teasing when he’s jacked up on hormones and frustrated.
    And maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest, but I don’t see a lot of what Camille describes. It’s kind of laughable, actually. It’s going to be 10 below tomorrow, not a lot skin showing around here.

  3. Danny says:

    To assume, for example, that a young man who cannot find a partner must have Asperger’s Syndrome, or some kind of fatal personality flaw.
    Either that or he’s a Nice Guy who’s about to either snap or whine about how women only date jerks (remember according to feminists women who date jerks then complain later either don’t exist or its not their fault for picking jerks to date).

    And its not that he won’t listen to men its that he won’t listen to men (and I’ll bet women) who don’t think feminism has all the answers.

  4. Cessen says:

    Welcome to life. You are now entering a world in which young men who are aggressive and dominant are significantly more sexually successful than men who are shy. You are now entering a world in which women are going to test you. If you show that you are vulnerable or if you lack confidence, women are probably not going to view you as a fully sexual person. If you would like to live in this world, please check here ______.

    If you would like to opt out of a world in which dominant, confident men are preferred as sexual partners, and would rather be transferred to an alternate universe in which heterosexual men can experience the same amount of sexual pleasure as gay men, without the need to be “suitably masculine,” please check here ______.

    I’ll take option #2, please.

    (I wish I got that option…)

  5. P John Irons says:

    @Valerie

    Maybe Jay’s date just didn’t want to have sex on the first date.

    It seems you got the impression that the point of the post was that Jay’s date “should” have said yes to sex.

    Well, what I got from it is rather that women, to the extent that they (or their female peers) still expect the men that they are sexually attracted to to make the “first moves”, should understand that part and parcel of abdicating that responsibility to men is the fact that there are going to be men that they are not attracted to that will also make “first moves” to test the waters.

    One can’t change the latter without equalising the former too.

    Okay, I just quoted Camille Paglia and so I probably lost two-thirds of my readers

    It might be so, but the evidence would suggest the opposite, based on the sudden spike in comments you just got.

  6. Valerie says:

    To P John Irons. Ok, i get your point that you don’t know if a woman wants to have sex with you until you try, but does it have to happen on a first date?
    You can’t get to know someone?
    If all you want out of women is just to have sex with the ones that turn you on and nothing else, you’re going to be frustrated. Full stop.

  7. Cessen says:

    @Valerie:

    If all you want out of women is just to have sex with the ones that turn you on and nothing else, you’re going to be frustrated. Full stop.

    Ah… the good ol’ “men just want one thing” stereotype. I can see nowhere that anyone has asserted what you seem to be responding to here.

    There is a difference between showing/demonstrating your attraction to someone on a first date and trying to sleep with them on a first date. I have never had intentions of sleeping with women on first dates (and I never have). In fact, for myself I am opposed to the idea for precisely the reasons you outline. And yet I still run into similar situations as Jay.

    It’s also worth noting that there is nothing wrong with a man wanting to sleep with someone on a first date, any more than it is wrong for a woman to want the same. For practical reasons it may indeed be advantageous to hide that if it is the case, but there are no ethical issues involved. I don’t know if you were implying otherwise, but just for clarity it seemed worth expressing.

    Lastly, there is no magic moment to express such interest in a woman. If not on the first date, then when? It’s very wishy-washy, because every woman and every situation is different. It’s a lot harder than it seems, and inevitably mistakes will be made, even with the best of efforts and intentions.

  8. P John Irons says:

    @Valerie

    I hear you that it is frustrating if a man “tries to get sex” on the first date.

    The problem is that each woman has her own different standards. Other women might feel that if there is no indication of sexual chemistry early on, then the relationship is not going to work for her, so she expects some serious making out (if not sex per se) to happen early on, maybe even the first date.

    And each woman thinks her own standard is “obvious”. Although, of course, they aren’t, unless you are a mind-reader.

    The problem is, to the extent that women in general still expect men to “make the first move”, mistakes are going to happen where you treat one woman not according her own “obvious” standards but according to your best guess as to those standards.

    I don’t believe this problem will go away if women initiate as frequently as men do, since each man also has his own idiosyncratic standards as to how soon and how sexual intimacies should escalate.

    But, if women share the responsibility for initiating, they will also share the experience of getting it wrong, and will have a better personal understanding of these dynamics from “the other side”.

  9. P John Irons says:

    I want to correct myself: I don’t believe the problem of miscommunication will go away if women initiate more equally, but it will definitely improve. In the absence of an expectation that the man should always initiate, each couple and forming couple will have to negotiate and communicate escalations of intimacy better, I hope.

    Also, Valerie, this goes beyond just sex. Even before that there are hundreds of little “escalations” of the level of intimacy which men are mostly expected to initiate:

    – being the first to verbally imply that the time you are spending together is an indication of more interest than just “two people becoming platonitc friends”

    – being the first to sit closer next to the other than normal social body space between friends or strangers

    – starting to touch the other more frequently, i.e. “how are you?” coupled with an affectionate touch on the arm

    And so on, and so on, and all this before we even get to the first kiss. And for each of these, each woman has her own script according to which one can either overdo it (“Ugh! He’s so touchy and possessive!”) or underdo it (“What a wimp. There’s just no passion!”).

    Women have the luxury of believing each of these escalations “just happen” organically if two people are intended for each other. Since they are not expected to initiate, they can live in blissful ignorance of how exactly these escalations occur.

    Men, however, know that in the crucial starting phases of a relationship, if you miss your opportunity for each of these escalations, then you’ve most likely blown it forever. There’s just not gonna be a relationship. You try and set up a next encounter, and instead of being that potential new love interest she met earlier that week, you end up being the guy whose calls she screens.

    I think one can attribute a portion of some men’s tendency to try and go “as far as possible” on the first date to this.

  10. Hugh Ristik says:

    Hi Miguel,

    We are discussing some of your writing on Clarisse Thorn’s blog. Although some of my comments are critical, I really like what you are doing here and I hope to give you some better responses soon.

  11. humbition says:

    I think that it’s a trap to compare the “amount” of sex you’ve had with that others have had — especially when that is measured by number of partners. And especially against gay men!

    There is an element here of the old deadly sin of Envy. It is the least fun of the deadly sins, and it is corrosive in the individual. At best it can teach you what you really want so you can try to go after it. At worst it will encourage you to want what you think others have, only for you to find that this wasn’t what you really wanted in the end, after all.

    Typhonblue has made an excellent point, somewhere, that men are encouraged to go after any woman who might be interested, whether that woman is good for that man or not. For myself I have always assumed myself to be a minority taste, and that some women would simply not accept who I am, or would accept me only to a point. Men talking about relationship-forming issues often complain, validly, about the advice to “be yourself.” Yet for me I have never felt there to be a real alternative to being myself, and the best thing therefore is to accept myself. Not because someone else told me to, of course — you should always reject that advice if it’s coming from someone else, even me!

    If a woman is more attracted to a different kind of man than to me, that is her business, her life and she is welcome to it. But then again, I accept diversity — as I suspect political correctness, in spite of what it thinks of itself, really does not.

    None of this is to say that the specific, logistic, emotional, interpersonal problems of dating and relationship-forming aren’t real and frustrating and hard, in the way that you and others are describing. It’s good that there is finally a clear discussion about these things.

    By the way I’m in my mid fifties, married almost twenty years.

  12. Hugh Ristik says:

    humbition said:

    I think that it’s a trap to compare the “amount” of sex you’ve had with that others have had — especially when that is measured by number of partners. And especially against gay men!

    To me, it sounds like Miguel is speaking of the opportunity for heterosexual men to have as much sex as gay men. As you observe, there may be reasons why men shouldn’t go after any remotely interested woman, and instead be more selective. Of course, being selective is a privilege of those who have choices, which is why I do think it’s relevant to compare men’s level of sexual choice to that of other classes of people, such as gay men.

    Unlike heterosexual men, gay men don’t date a group of people who are dramatically more selective than they are themselves. Heterosexual men are the only group of people who are dating a group of people who are dramatically more picky. That’s great when you are one of the men getting picked (which is often linked with a certain sort of masculine expression), but otherwise, it looks like men get the short straw in terms of dating choice.

    From what I hear from my gay friends, they seem to find sexual communication with men much more straightforward. For instance, they employ sexual propositions with other men, or receive them. Early propositions just don’t really work by heterosexual men towards women (barring massively above average charisma and attractiveness), because since women are pickier and care more about personality traits and behavior, it’s less likely that a woman will be interested in a proposition, and because women need more time to assess their attraction to the man (looks can be assessed as the speed of light, which personality traits must be assessed at the speed of conversation). Furthermore, many women think of sexual propositions as crass, probably because they associate them with unattractive men.

    Women being pickier is not unjust, because women have the right to choose whoever they want. But when males contain a larger proportion of people being overlooked (entailed by the difference is selectivity), then the situation is inequitable. The situation rankles even more when it appears that women (on average) are often selecting men for level of traits that they don’t possess themselves (e.g. making more money, being more confident, making the moves, making the decisions), or on stereotypically masculine traits, many of which are often considered socially undesirable (e.g. dominance, arrogance, aggressiveness, making assumptions about consent).

    It’s an excellent thought experiment to remind ourselves that men didn’t choose a system with these dystopian pressures, and to try to imagine a system in which those pressures didn’t exist.

  13. elementary_watson says:

    “Women have the luxury of believing each of these escalations “just happen” organically”

    A young woman I was sexually interested in some months ago told me she lost her last boyfriend because she couldn’t promise him she wouldn’t be unfaithful, because sex outside a relationship can “just happen”. I told her that only a woman could believe that a sexual encounters “just happen”, at least not for straight men.

    Another woman I met over internet became single soon after we got to know each other; she also had the idea that you find a new relationship if you just let things go their own way.

    I really like this blog, Miguel, and I really like P John Irons’ analysis of the Scylla and Charybdis (being seen as too passionate or not passionate enough on the first few dates) men have to navigate in the dating “game”.

  14. DividingDay says:

    The main thing I don’t understand is the conflation of “confidence” with “dominance.” If a woman says she wants her romantic partner to be “confident,” Miguel seems to hear that she wants a “dominating Jerk.” Personally, I think confidence is a highly attractive trait in both genders. It is also applauded in many other areas of life: with friends, in work, on stage, in writing. Of course, it is natural for people to lack confidence – that sometimes has its own charm. They may even feel confident in one area and insecure in another. Someone who is convinced that they bring something great to the table will attract more positive attention from all people, in general.

  15. Jim says:

    “From what I hear from my gay friends, they seem to find sexual communication with men much more straightforward. ”

    And there are reasons for this. Some are institutional – the insitution of the bath house, for instance. If you see someone in a bath house, he is there for sex – maybe not with you specifically, but with someone and generally a lot of them – various levels of sex, like window shopping. intesrest has to eb communicated so that you don’t get a rejection, and even just a subtle turning away means no, and no is final, for that moment at least – but there is no question of someone not wanting sex in general.

    And some are cultural. For instance there is less good-girl posing. A lot of guys these days pass through a phase when they are all chaste and whatever, but they are chuckled at as twitchy little twinks. It’s considered an immature conceit. Of course people can be choosy or even celibate, but making a big point of it is a pose.

    But the biggest difference is a common understanding that sex is not an all or nothing thing. We can play for a while, but that does not give you any right to expect to get to know me better, to become part of my life, all that possessive crap. We bumped some skin, and had a good time, I hope – you don’t own me, you don’t get to evaluate me against your scale of Mr. Right, you don’t get to excitedly analyze me with your friends for two hours tomorow, get all resentful because I don’t fulfil your point-for-point fantasies of the future. The fact that it’s physical intimacy – well how does that imply anything deeper, like emotional intimacy? So what you get at a bath house for instance is a very nuanced type of sex, with subtle levels of intimacy – and yes you can have some surprising intimacies with someone you only met a minute before – all completely consensual, with that consensuality backed up by everyone in the house – house rules – since there isn’t any absolute privacy in a bath house.

    And I think this extends to other sex, by diffusion.

  16. johnedens says:

    …the tired, old, misogynistic women-don’t-like-nice-guys argument.

    Two points:

    1. I see the argument is characterized as tired, old, and misogynistic. What I don’t see it characterized as is ‘wrong’. Perhaps it isn’t wrong.

    2. It might be the case that women like nice guys just fine – but aren’t really all that interested in having sexual relations with them.

  17. voxnewman says:

    I’m not sure that the idea that women choose bad boys is true either (which leads into the further argument that men have to emulate him). I think there might be a confusion of cause and effect. For instance it may be that those ‘macho’ men as you put it, are macho for a reason: they socialized that way in grade school and high school. They did this because children are very basic in their emotional development and boys in a patriarchal system and both sexes in a capitalistic one are raised to compete and favour those who are ‘winning’ (there’s a reason this has become an oft-used word by Charlie Sheen). This means that young boys are doubly enforced to elevate the alpha-male and idolize him. As this alpha-child ages, his confidence is constantly reinforced and when the hormones kick in he already finds it easy to acquire companionship. This gives him a leg up on his ‘competition’ and if he’s smart he learns earlier than most what girls want, how to provide that and that he is capable of providing it. In addition to that this macho kid might, in fact, be a nice guy. So, if he’s smart, if he’s nice and if he’s macho he will be highly successful as a young adult, mostly because he has positive reinforcement, experience and therefore a great deal of confidence and savvy. This may be why it appears that young women prefer macho men, because they knew a kid like the one I outlined above and assumed that they were proto-typical (i.e. smart, nice and confident). they soon learn, however, that not all men were created equal and as they mature they begin to notice that the qualities of the boy outlined above are found in ‘non-macho’ men (smart, nice maybe slightly less confident), meanwhile many young men as they progress see this learning experience by their sexual counterparts and assume that it’s a trait and for whatever reason abandon the first two qualities (smart, nice) because they think that it’s all about the third (confidence).
    What I mean to say is that young women do not prefer the macho man (who sometimes is the bad boy, but just as easily be a good guy), it just happens that he’s the first one out of the gates. Early bird gets the worm and all. What men have to remember is that they themselves had a hand in creating the macho man and if they did it for one (or a few) they can do it for all (and themselves).

  18. aleknovy says:

    I’m not sure that the idea that women choose bad boys is true either (which leads into the further argument that men have to emulate him). I think there might be a confusion of cause and effect.

    The only people on the planet who deny there’s massive attraction to badboys among women – is feminists.

    In the general population, most women confess to being drawn to badboys. There are bestsellers on how to tame a badboy, how to to convert a badboy and even addiction centers on overcoming addictions to badboys.

    Most women in the real world readily confess weakness toward badboys, yet in the femisphere, femies talk to us as if we haven’t talked to other women…

  19. Adi says:

    This is a great post. Speaking from my heart.
    It is extremely difficult for heterosexual men to let go of the reigns in dating. Like expecting someone to let go of the steering wheel while driving. You just know it’s gonna end badly. Why? Because you’re still in the drivers seat.

    Your point about feminists being unrealistic is also very very true. One should also note that, though feminists claim to speak for all women and most of the public seem to believe that, they really don’t. Exposing young heterosexual men to feminist ideas can be extremely harmful to their development and education about the opposite sex.

  20. Danny says:

    Aleknovy:
    The only people on the planet who deny there’s massive attraction to badboys among women – is feminists.
    I’ve noticed that too. Perhaps its just an attempt at trying divert responsibility for one’s dating choices. From what I gather it seems their argument is that women are attracted to the confidence of the “badboy” but when that badboy’s other traits come out they play it off as if said badboy pulled a “gotcha” on them. That way women continue to be the poor innocent victims of jerkish badboys and the Nice Guys.

  21. AlekNovy says:

    Well, that’s kinda half-true.

    I’m not saying women are attracted to jerkiness per-se. It is true that women are attracted to guys who are attractive, and a lot of attractive guys just happen to be jerks (a lot of attractive women are bitches to, we pursue them coz they’re hot, not coz we like bitchiness).. Women aren’t attracted because the guy is a jerk, but they are attracted still.

    What the femmies do however is to say that jerkiness is a turn-off and that niceness is a turn on, in and of itself. That is the part that I think is the lie. They are trying to pretend as if though women hate jerks. No they don’t. Sure, they’d prefer if a guy were nicer, but the first and foremost criteria is being attracted. Niceness is a bonus, being a jerk is a mere annoyance. Neither is a major factor though.

  22. Adi says:

    The cause for this is that the women who are feminists (a relatively small minority btw) are generally not attracted to jerks. In other words, they’re speaking the truth – for themselves. The problem however is that they project their taste onto the majority of women. So what happens is that the average female dating behavior suggests a gravitation towards bad boys and the feminist thought process is: “No that’s wrong because I’m not attracted to bad boys and neither are any of my (feminist) friends”.

    It’s not that they’re lying – they’re just projecting and are disconnected from the reality of heterosexual dating for most men. It’s all very well that SOME women like nice guys. But a man must adapt to what MOST women like if he intends to improve his success rate.

    There is actually a female equivalent and that is looks. Most men are attracted to the typical female beauty standard even if a large portion of them aren’t. For women that isn’t much help because as long as the average man is most attracted to the cliché beauty queen look, women who want to date successfully must adopt that look for themselves. It’s not quite the same as for men but certainly there is a parallel.

  23. Danny says:

    (a lot of attractive women are bitches to, we pursue them coz they’re hot, not coz we like bitchiness).
    Yes but when guys get burned by such women you don’t see the same rigorous defense of men. No at that point those men should have known better right? So when women date jerks its the jerk’s fault but when men date jerks its the man’s fault?

  24. Adi says:

    Yes. That’s symptomatic of the more widespread problem of unbalanced distribution of sympathy between the genders. Both genders are guilty of that imbalance – in other words, both men and women have more sympathy and compassion for women than for men in the exact situation.
    This is because sympathy and compassion are tied to vulnerability and women are seen as and, more importantly, present themselves as more vulnerable. Men hide their vulnerability as much as they can while women don’t and often even flaunt it.
    Again, both genders are playing this game of “strong man, weak woman” and both are apparently enjoying it – at least the majority are.

  25. Adi says:

    I forgot to add that it is particularly noteworthy that feminists are very prone to play this game too. This actually makes feminism a patriarchal movement more than anything else. Perhaps somebody should tell them.

  26. Danny says:

    Good luck with that. They tend to not like having things like that pointed out to them.

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