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“Is My Reputation Damaged Forever?”

I recently moved to a new city to attend a pretty prestigious, though small, professional school in my state — a school where everyone gossips and your reputation follows you everywhere, even later in your career. I hardly know anyone here, so when I found out online that there was to be a party held by and for my future classmates, I jumped at the chance for some social interaction. The party was fun, but I made a number of mistakes: drinking too much; and flirting with another student (not from my school, but friends with a student from my school) who decided to walk me home.

I neglected to say goodbye to anyone, and I was seen kissing the aforementioned guy outside the bar by a couple of my future classmates who probably assume that sex followed, even though it didn’t. They basically ignored me and walked by, despite the fact that they were people I had somewhat befriended earlier in the evening (although I did sort of ditch them). I guess what I want to know is: how likely is it that my reputation will be damaged by this, given people’s tendency to gossip? Am I doomed to being “that girl” — the slutty one who goes home with a relative stranger after a few hours and too many shots (insert feminist rant about double standards here — I definitely know it’s unfair)? How can I recover, if I can at all? Am I completely over-thinking this? I want to be confident and own what I did by considering that a lot of people might have done the same after too many drinks, but I don’t know how. I feel slightly ashamed and embarrassed, since I have no way of knowing if and what my future colleagues thought about what happened. I know that even if I had had sex, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but despite all these self-assurances, I’m more than a little distraught. I’m worried this will negatively affect my assimilation into school, my ability to make friends, and even my career. Any advice? — The New Student

Are you seriously worried that you getting drunk at a new student college party and getting caught making out with a random guy afterward might affect your future career? Like, really? I mean, I guess there are schools where this kind of behavior might be frowned upon, but it’s hard to imagine that even at those schools your career would be jeopardized by such PG behavior. And since you don’t mention your school being an uber-religious one, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that yes, you are definitely over-thinking this; your “future colleagues” probably couldn’t care less that you had a few shots and kissed a boy. They were probably too busy drinking a few shots themselves and looking for people to kiss to notice any of your pretty tame shenanigans.

Unless you and the aforementioned guy got caught, like, having public sex in the quad at midnight, I wouldn’t worry another minute that anyone is giving this incident a second thought — or, frankly, even a first thought — or that your reputation is damaged beyond control or that your future career is in jeopardy. Unless the “professional” part of your professional school is a “professional nunnery,” I’d say you’re pretty much in the clear, dear. ENJOY this time in your life when having a few too many drinks at a party is your biggest concern. There will come a day — all too soon, probably — when you’ll long for those times, nostalgically (God, especially when you start experiencing a 30-something hangover).

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

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{ 64 comments… add one }

  • avatar Elle August 18, 2011, 8:18 am

    Oh honey, you know what would hurt your career a lot more than kissing a guy at a party? Getting bad grades. If your social life is ruined, as you predict, use the time to get all A’s in all your classes. None of this will matter a month from now, let alone in a few years, when you graduate. Good luck!

  • Budj Budjer August 18, 2011, 8:44 am

    I disagree with Wendy. Small professional schools like this tend to be awfully competitive….and as innocent as making out with a guy is…some one from that school can take that and run with it…especially since its the first time everyone was meeting? I’m not sure if it’s a better scenario that it was a guy that wasn’t from the school or not.

    Not saying your life and career is over, but you may just want to tread carefully until you catch wind of any drama to avoid any headaches. This mostly depends on the type of people in your class and I know people can be fairly petty if they feel ditched.

    • avatar Mainer August 18, 2011, 9:07 am

      I’m not sure what “profession” she would be pursuing that this would actually matter. If she were at a nunnery and boning dudes on the side before becoming “official,” I could see some people being like “eh, maaaybe this isn’t the thing for her.” But in what area is making out with someone going to hold a person back? Also, what type of party was it? If this was like a formal cocktail hour with a classical music ensemble playing with everyone wearing their Sunday finest and she comes rocketing out of the next room “WOOOOO, let’s all get naked!!” then yeah, may come back to bit her in the ass.

      I’ve totally been in her shoes. You wake up thinking it was so much worse than it really was and turns out no one really remembered or noticed. I mean some people she just met walked by her while she was making out with a dude. Big whoop. But she’s over analyzing it thinking they were running right to the dean to tell him/her this raging slut has no right being at this school. Where I went to school, this scenario was known as Tuesday. You want something to be embarrassed about, try waking up in a strip club in Montreal with mud on your pants, no money, a joint behind your ear, and wearing someone else’s shirt. That shit can come back to you. But, you just wake up the next morning, pretend it never happened, and see who wants to get breakfast. Hardly a blip on the radar in my career pursuit.

      • Budj Budjer August 18, 2011, 9:10 am

        I know. I said her career and life isn’t over…but it might cause some drama depending on her classmates.

        • Budj Budjer August 18, 2011, 9:11 am

          As much as we are concerned for ourselves there is always one person in a group of people that is concerned with other people’s drama…I just ran into that too much when I was in school.

          • avatar Mainer August 18, 2011, 9:31 am

            oye, how true that is.

            • Budj Budjer August 18, 2011, 9:35 am

              I did enjoy your post though. haha.

      • Caris Caris August 19, 2011, 11:20 pm

        This was so funny. :D

    • avatar Renee August 18, 2011, 9:26 am

      In agreement. Good news, you can recover. The only thing it may become a bit of ‘remember when’ type thing. People won’t judge professionally, it will just be the first thing they will always remember.

    • avatar applescruff August 18, 2011, 10:15 am

      I agree with you, Budjer. To me it sounds like she’s in a professional grad program – my grad school had programs like that for psychology, optometry, physical therapy, etc. I hope her cohort isn’t too gossipy, but I found grad school a lot more judgmental than college, just because there was the constant expectation of “professionalism” hanging over our heads. That said, there were plenty of times we all went out, drank too much, and made poor life choices. ;) I bet in a month it won’t matter at all.

      • Budj Budjer August 18, 2011, 10:18 am

        Yep. Potential short term drama…but nothing to have an anxiety attack about over your career…

      • avatar ele4phant August 18, 2011, 10:28 am

        Huh, our programs must be very different. While there are definetly higher expectations for us then for the undergrads, our cohort has become pretty tight, and there’s a lot of drinking to let of the tension, and nobody bats an eye at that. It probably doesn’t hurt that there are a couple of professors right there with us.

        • Budj budjer August 18, 2011, 10:40 am

          Executive management school is a good example…

          • avatar ele4phant August 18, 2011, 10:43 am

            Huh, if that’s the way it is – all work and no play – glad I didn’t go to business school!

            • Budj Budjer August 18, 2011, 10:50 am

              ME TOO – a guy I went to high school with is working like 15 hours a day…7 days a week…a hoity-toity culture and horrible work hours sounds like hell.

        • avatar ele4phant August 18, 2011, 10:50 am

          We had one of our classes at our professors house. He encouraged us to bring alchohol and have drink one or two to get used to being in a social situation and talking about our work (basically, emulating being at a happy hour or a conference where we might run into someone important). If we were going to make fools of ourselves before we learned to balance socializing and making professional connections, he wanted us to do it in a controlled environment first.

        • avatar mcminnem August 18, 2011, 10:58 am

          I always wondered if professors in other programs were like that or if it was just me – I’m in a music program where 9 times out of 10 our pre-exam
          /concert/teaching gig checklist runs something like “everyone show up on time, warm up in the dressing rooms as per usual, and we’ll all meet in the pub afterward. Did someone book the patio? Yes? Excellent, see you there. Break a leg.”

          • avatar ele4phant August 18, 2011, 11:32 am

            Its not just your program, for sure. We have a weekly lecture series with a paid happy hour afterwards. Usually only one or two profs will show up for the actual lecture, but invariably three or four more will make it to the happy hour.

          • avatar Dennis Hong August 18, 2011, 2:06 pm

            When I was in grad school (molecular biology), the entire department had an annual retreat at a nice hotel in the mountains. The professors always drank way more than the grad students. But hey, at least they gave us something to strive towards….

            • avatar Kate August 18, 2011, 2:11 pm

              I wish I went to your school!

              • avatar Dennis Hong August 18, 2011, 2:31 pm

                UCSD! This was a while ago, though. I think they had to cut the retreat for budget reasons. :-(

                • avatar leotheshark August 18, 2011, 6:22 pm

                  whoo tritons! :)

        • avatar artsygirl August 23, 2011, 10:35 am

          My grad program hosted bar nights at the local pub along with beer and wine every Friday from five until seven. One of my German classes even had class in a German bar once a month. I was convinced that they did it to mellow us out and make sure we did jump off any high buildings.

    • Jess Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com August 18, 2011, 11:04 am

      Very much agree. And for what its worth, I think is far better that the guy is not a classmate.

  • avatar TheOtherMe August 18, 2011, 8:55 am

    Wow. IMO No damage done. If that’s all that it takes to be “that girl” then most of us are “that girl”. Also, if I saw two people making out, even to people I had previously befriended, I would let them have their privacy so…. I would also probably walk by without saying anything.

  • avatar kerrycontrary August 18, 2011, 8:56 am

    oh my god…people worry way too much about what people think of them. You know what? People DON’T spend their time thinking about you because they are all too busy worrying about themselves (just like you!). I am sure that ALL of them will have embarassing moments like this sometime throughout their time at school or even at an after-work happy hour a few years down the road. I know a lawyer who was caught having sex in an alley during law school. Guess what? She’s still a lawyer! and everyone doesn’t hate her! chill out.

    • avatar soandso August 18, 2011, 9:17 am

      yes, you said it perfect. No one cares!

    • avatar El August 18, 2011, 12:42 pm

      I’m actually kind of surprised by this. Law students are an especially judgmental bunch. When my fiance was a first year, there was a single mom in his class who casually dated a couple of classmates. She was forever labeled as, “that whore who neglects her kid”. Another girl lost a ton of weight the summer after first year, but was still called “that gross fat chick” constantly. Not all law schools are the same, but it was definitely an environment where if your actions could be perceived as “low class”, it was pretty much guaranteed that everyone was talking behind your back.

      • avatar Kate August 18, 2011, 1:21 pm

        this is true from what I’ve heard from lawyer friends.

        • avatar El August 18, 2011, 1:51 pm

          Yep! We had a running joke that law school should be renamed, “high school: the sequel”.

          • avatar Kate August 18, 2011, 1:52 pm

            I have definitely heard this before! Grad school is less high school, but still a total gossip fest.

      • avatar kerrycontrary August 18, 2011, 1:59 pm

        I agree that law school is a close knit sometimes crazy group of people, but doing something like getting drunk isn’t going to ruin your entire life. Especially because odd-ball behavior can be on-par for law school.

    • avatar Dennis Hong August 18, 2011, 2:08 pm

      But if everyone really did chill out about stuff like this, what would we have to talk about on here? For God’s sake, someone think of Wendy’s career!!!

      • avatar TheOtherMe August 18, 2011, 2:11 pm

        Denniiiiiiiissss :D

  • avatar Bethany August 18, 2011, 9:10 am

    Off topic, but Wendy is sooooo right about the 30-something hang over. Enjoy your 20′s while you still have them, because the 30-something hangover is a KILLER!!!

  • avatar soandso August 18, 2011, 9:24 am

    I’m sure Harry Potter himself was caught making out a few times

  • avatar ForeverYoung August 18, 2011, 9:42 am

    I will agree you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. There are exceptions I will admit, but for the most part it’s pretty hard to have a reputation after one incident, that is known as a first impression, not a reputation. You will only be known as “that girl” if this happens all the time when you are socializing with these people.

    From your letter it sounds like this was not a formal event, but one put together by students. I get that you’re anxious about it, but I get the impression you are more anxious about school starting and making new friends than the actual incident, because having 4 people see you make out with a guy is not a big deal.

    So my suggestion is next time you see these people – i’m not sure if it will be the first day of class or again for a social – hold your head high. Become a people reader and if they seem like they all had wild college days (I can always tell that about people for some reason) maybe joke about how embarrassed you are. If they seem pretty uptight and like they are really into acting perfect, just pretend like it never happened and study your butt off to show that you are someone to be taken seriously.

    I just can’t imagine any scenario where this will have any long term negative effects. So keep yourself busy until school starts and you will be fine. Maybe next time at the social don’t drink quite so much so that if you want to make out with a random you can do it in a more 007 kind of way. :)

    • avatar Valerie August 18, 2011, 11:45 am

      “You will only be known as “that girl” if this happens all the time when you are socializing with these people.”

      THIS!!!! My thoughts exactly!

      LW, I wouldn’t worry about this happening this past time. Everyone has probably forgotten about it already. I know for me, I have a tendency to drink too much on occasion. I’m in a graduate program, and it didn’t take too long to learn which students and professors were cool with getting a little rowdy, and who wasn’t. The hardest part is when you go to formal functions that are organized by your program, because, if your program is anything like my program, there’s usually an open bar. It’s really hard not to take advantage, so I follow the “I have to drive” rule (even if I don’t) and limit myself to 2 drinks, maybe 3 maximum (if it’s a long party), because if drinking too much ever has the possibility of hurting your reputation, it’s getting schwasty in front of your professors.

  • avatar fast eddie August 18, 2011, 9:50 am

    Honey your giving way to much power to a bunch of people that you hardly know. Don’t be the rabbit in the greyhound race. If any catty remarks come you way be prepared with some witty comebacks. i.e. When I’m good, I’m very good and when I’m bad, I’m better (Mae West) -or- So many men, so little time. (sigh) -or- sing a few lines from “Tonight, tonight” from West Side Story.

    • avatar fast eddie August 18, 2011, 5:54 pm

      more snappy comebacks:
      Are your jealous?
      Who’d you take home/took you home that night?
      She who hesitates…(fill in the blank)
      Isn’t he cute? (sly grin)
      You’re welcome to try him. I don’t mind.
      Is there something I should know here?

  • avatar Princess Bananahammock August 18, 2011, 10:11 am

    Professional school is a gossipy middle-school-like environment. But, I assure you, others in your class will do WAY worse than this in the coming weeks (and years). Even IF some people noticed and gave a sh*t about you making out with this guy, they won’t care a month from now. Incidents from professional school that I can recall, that appear to have had NO impact on these people’s lives, include: getting blackout drunk and punching out a car window; vomiting at official events; openly cheating on significant others; sex acts in the classroom; etc. Work hard at your classes, make some friends – all will be fine.

  • avatar LeahW. August 18, 2011, 10:30 am

    I’m going to go ahead and assume that what the LW says about this school is true: that people gossip and that negative gossip can follow you into your career. The good thing about a program such as yours, or graduate programs of any kind, are that you get to make great professional contacts with your classmates and teachers. To make the best impression, though, you have to treat these people more like colleagues than schoolmates. The mistakes you made sound like the ones that a lot of people make at office parties. The behavior that’s acceptable at parties with your friends (drinking too much, publicly making out, going home with someone) is absolutely unacceptable at work, even if you’re seeing your co-workers and bosses in a social setting. But a lot of people forget that they’re still at work and just cut loose, like you did!

    The good news is, you can absolutely come back from this. You’ve already shown your classmates and colleagues how you’d act at your least professional, so the best thing to do is to be as professional as possible from now on. On the first day of class, dress as you would for your first day of work and act accordingly. You don’t need to be standoffish, but be friendly in a professional way. Step up the language that you use to talk with your classmates and teachers. Shake hands with people instead of a wave. Basically, go in guns blazing, as if you’re trying to impress the CEO instead of just a peer who saw you get too drunk at a party.

    Best case scenario is they really didn’t judge your behavior and you have nothing to worry about (ever think that your classmates didn’t say goodbye because you were making out with someone and they wanted to give you privacy?). Even in that case, it never hurts to impress future colleagues and professional contacts by demonstrating how professional you’ll once you start your career. Worst comes to worse, you may be “the girl that got too drunk and goes home people people” for a while. But keep up the professional image during class, and a more in-control social version of yourself at future parties, and eventually they’ll forget about it.

    • Jess Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com August 18, 2011, 11:03 am

      YES Leah!

    • avatar Princess Bananahammock August 18, 2011, 11:09 am

      I don’t necessarily disagree, but want to qualify this a little . . . Try to match a level of professionalism commensurate with the school culture. If the school culture is not to wear suits to class, I would definitely NOT recommend wearing a suit to the first day of class. You know what is considered worse than being a slut in professional school? Being a gunner. If you’re in doubt, wear something classy (e.g. knee-length skirt and blouse) on the first day until you see how casual others are going. Yes, professional school is where you make contacts that will be valuable for the rest of your career. But those contacts arise largely out of friendship and bonding, not from overly formal interactions.

      • avatar LeahW. August 18, 2011, 4:16 pm

        Totally agree, Princess! When I suggested dressing for class as you would for work, I was definitely envisioning “business casual” rather than a full suit!

  • becboo84 BecBoo84 August 18, 2011, 10:35 am

    What is a “pretty prestigious, though small, professional school?” Does that mean college or graduate school? Seriously, I have never heard that term before. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been living under a rock or something…

    • avatar Morgan August 18, 2011, 10:45 am

      I read that as an on the small side business school or law school or maybe masters program, but the LW was trying to be vague about any potential identifying details.

      • Jess Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com August 18, 2011, 11:02 am

        That’s how I read it too. And I am guessing its small and specialized enough that LW doesn’t want to leave any clues that might tip off someone who knows her.

    • avatar kate August 18, 2011, 11:28 am

      It could be medical, dental or vet school as well as law school.

  • Jess Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com August 18, 2011, 11:00 am

    I agree with LeahW here. At small specialized schools, the expectations are different than at large state universities where keg parties are standard. I went to a very small graduate school and we had a similar pre-semester party where a classmate got wildly drunk, danced on a table, and went home with a random guy. I can tell you that this did NOT secure her a good reputation and people were wary of her for months to come. Even now in alumni networks, I steer clear of her so yes, it CAN affect your career (but that is a worst case scenario). The problem is was that was our first impression of her. No one knew if she had just overdone it or if she had serious behavior and drinking problems. Time revealed that she really was an alcoholic, sadly, so the reputation stuck.

    But in your case, there is hope! The best advice is like Leah said, to give it time. The best thing you can do is prove yourself to be a stable, balanced, and still FUN classmate –i.e. normal! As you go through these first weeks, be sure to stay social and obviously watch the alcohol intake a little. You might even want to mention (IF it comes up) how you can’t believe how you overdid it the other night. Without making it a big deal, it wouldn’t hurt to let on that your behavior at that party was not the norm for you.

    Don’t overcompensate by seeming prudish or aloof. Just be who you are. Work hard, be friendly, be the person the got you a seat in this school in the first place. Soon enough, you’ll make lifelong friends and will laugh about how crazy things went at that first party.

  • avatar MiMi August 18, 2011, 11:24 am

    If you acted like a dork your first night in town, own it and laugh it off in a breezy way if it ever comes up – people take their cues from you. And don’t drink at school-related functions if you can’t hold your liquor.

  • avatar Jena August 18, 2011, 11:57 am

    Is it the 1950s? Why would anyone pass over you for a job because you went home with a guy? Professional school or not, your personal life is none of their beeswax.

  • avatar MsMisery August 18, 2011, 12:21 pm

    Is this some school like BYU where the school can expel you for holding hands with boys and drinking Mountain Dew and things like that? Because if there can’t be any official sanctions for your very minor indiscretions and this is still just all in your head, then move on/grow up!

  • avatar David Jay August 18, 2011, 1:01 pm

    Definitely an overthink… especially compared to the wild stuff you’ll be doing in the next few years at college! Even if you live your life straight as an arrow, make good grades and get a great job, there will be people in your life will try to damage your rep with lies, rumors, and baseless attacks. Best to get used to it now cause it only gets worse in the real world.

    • avatar Kate August 18, 2011, 1:23 pm

      Yeah, but she said professional school, so she graduated from college. And professional school students tend to be a judge-y, incestuous lot (no offense professional students…). But you’re right, people love to talk.

  • bittergaymark bittergaymark August 18, 2011, 1:10 pm

    Yikes. You sound a bit like a paranoid mess… “…and I was seen kissing the aforementioned guy outside the bar by a couple of my future classmates who probably assume that sex followed, even though it didn’t. They basically ignored me and walked by…” Um, what? They didn’t ignore you! They just didn’t want to intrude. Frankly, I can’t imagine walking up to somebody I had only just met when I later stumbled onto them making out on the quad with some guy and saying, “Oh, hi, Hester! What are you up to? And who is this?”

    Get a grip, Girl. Trust me, you really aren’t THAT important. Surely, these classmates have better things to discuss than the really-not-that-slutty behavior of somebody they barely know. Again, you are so paranoid here. You just moved to this school, yet already KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that everybody there is a deranged gossiping bitch and that this incident will still be discussed in hushed whispers at your retirement party in forty years…

    Seriously, just chill out. This will pass.

  • avatar AndreaMarie August 18, 2011, 2:20 pm

    What you do at a college party has no affect on your future career…unless you’re stupid enough to post pictures onf Facebook! I work in a global Investment Bank in NYC…it’s a relatively conservative culture…but I am more than sure that majority fo my collegues have been drunk, kissed people, had one night stands, experimented with drugs, etc. Nobody knows, nobody cares. What happens in people’s personal lives is irrelevant so long as it’s not advertized online or effects your performance at work.

  • avatar Lily August 18, 2011, 6:37 pm

    Unless you were sloppy drunk, I doubt anyone noticed. That said, if you are going to a certain caliber of business school, etc. people do tend to be a bit judgmental. My personal experience is that it is a much more formal type of environment and it is best to be on your guard. Think of it as an opportunity to meet colleagues and work friends, not the type of friends who you tell your secrets. I went to one of these types of places and it was a bit puritanical (a guy who was a hardcore drinker and a girl who tried to make her way through all of the guys in the program were the favorite topics).

  • katie katie August 18, 2011, 7:50 pm

    i think the best way to handle these situations is to pretend you dont care about it, and that its not a big deal at all. if anyone brings it up, using this attitude will likely diffuse the situation, because at that point everyone will be wanting (or maybe expecting?) a long thought out excuse as to why you did what you did. if you just come off as, oh it was just this. and nothing more, change the subject, whatever, then it doesnt become a big deal to them either, because you dont care. they cant care if you dont.

    also, i think if you strive now to have a very professional attitude while in class, you can show a large differentiation between work and out of work. you know what i mean? those people who are just so at work, do everything right, but as soon as they get done- watch out, there wild! you could be that person.

  • Skyblossom Skyblossom August 19, 2011, 6:13 am

    If you’re concerned that your actions could hurt you then think long and hard before accepting any friend requests on Facebook from anyone at your new school. You need to go through all of your photos and eliminate any that you would find embarassing in your new situation or create a new Facebook page that you use in a more professional way at this new school. Clean up your current Facebook or have two Facebook identities where you can pick what everyone sees at the new location or just say you don’t want to be Facebook friends with your colleagues. There will always be someone who finds the time to read every post on your wall for months on end or go through every photo ever posted. Think about what that person would see and decide whether that would hurt you.

  • avatar Ruby August 19, 2011, 7:49 am

    Actually, I think it’s a really good lesson to behave in a professional manner when in the presence of colleagues or fellow students.
    If you’re concerned about how you’re going to be perceived by others, and you want to be treated with respect…then perhaps try not to get drunk in front of your peers which could make you ‘look bad’ or leave you to do something you may regret the next day.
    I know when you’re in school, it’s different than when you’re in the working world.
    But I still think that alcohol should never be used to excuse you from behaving badly – no matter how old you are.
    People are going to think whatever they think about you…you can’t control that. But you can control how you conduct yourself and present yourself to the world.

  • avatar Miriam August 19, 2011, 10:02 pm

    Here is an alternate strategy (in addition to showing up, dressing/acting professionally, holding head high, etc):

    Make friends with the ‘leader’ of the group that walked by you that night. If that night never comes up, don’t mention it. Your good reputation as a friend will be enough to earn you her advocacy in the future. If the subject of the party comes up (even not about you directly), you can casually mention that you’re sorry you didn’t say goodnight when you first met, and that you ditched the guy and went home a few minutes after they left the party as well. Don’t beat a dead horse, just mention it super casually in passing. If there was any judgment, this will get around and nullify it.

  • kaluu kate August 19, 2011, 10:19 pm

    i would be embarrassed too if people knew that i was drunkily kissing someone i’d just met THAT NIGHT. also i would be embarrassed about the ditching as its something very awkward to apologize for now. so i dont think you are crazy for worrying. i agree that you should tread carefully.

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