Making Friendships Tick

I’d like to ask you a question. What gives your life meaning?

Go ahead, give yourself a moment.

What are you coming up with? Your work. Enjoying art. Good food. Music. Being original. That thing you love to do on the weekends. Being outside. Making a hard earned income. Being creative.

If you said any of those, I can totally relate. And I’d love to hear about the one you thought of that hasn’t been mentioned.

Consider for a moment that there’s actually something deeper than all of this that gives your life meaning. Without this something, none of what just got mentioned has meaning anymore.

That something is relationships. Because if you were completely alone in the world, having any or all of those things we thought of earlier would suddenly be meaningless. You’d have no one to share them with.

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(Photo: It started out as a kiss… by Tonya Wicht)

But, if you lost all of those things and still had solid relationships, life would continue to have meaning. Sure, it would probably be a major bummer for a while to be without that job/hobby/ability. But you’d get together with a friend or family member for support, and eventually figure out a way through it.

So, this of course leads me to thinking about how to build the kind of relationships that give our lives meaning. And this reflection leads me to something singular (yet again).

It’s something that has really been highlighted for me by an 84 year old whom I’ve known my whole life. My grandfather. He is someone that I feel very connected to. And if he’s one thing, it’s consistent. Consistent about his schedule. What he wears. Does for fun. Eats for lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a slice of American cheese.)

Most importantly from where I’m sitting, he’s consistent about getting back to me every time I reach out to him. If I call, he picks up. If I text, he texts back. When I suggested we go to India for three weeks, he got right back to me to say, “Let me think about it.” Then a few days later he called with, “Let’s do it!”

I share this idea of consistency to point to that one thing that builds strong, meaningful relationships.

It’s responsiveness. Essentially, when we reach out to someone, they reach back. By doing this over and over again, we build strong capital in the “relationship investment account” that we have with this person.

So what does responsiveness look like in practice? Let’s break it down.

Texting: when someone texts you, be sure to text them back within a few minutes or hours. Yes, even if they just sent you a silly cat video or an article that’s going to take forever to read. If you’re feeling lazy it can be “thanks!” or whichever emoji you’re keen on this week. And if you can’t get back to them within a few hours say, “Sorry to not get back quicker, out with friends. I’ll check this video/article/etc. out!” Lastly, if you find yourself doing a ton of texting or feeling somewhat agitated, give them a call and have a conversation.

Calling: when someone calls you, give them a call back. Simply texting back in response to a phone call can feel distant and disconnected. If you can’t talk right then, answer the phone and let them know when you can call back. Or text them back with “Thanks for the call! In a meeting right now, can I call you at 9pm?” Then put a reminder in your phone to do exactly that.

Time together: when someone reaches out to set up plans with you, reach back out to make it happen. Try to be flexible with your schedule, as this will make them feel important (which they are). And if you haven’t heard from them in a few weeks, go ahead and initiate spending time with them. You will always get more mileage out of setting up plans ahead of time rather than last minute, because it let’s them know they are important enough for you to set aside your valuable time.

A few traps to avoid:

– Canceling on them. This is probably the most important one. Each contact with this person is an investment into your relationship account, and flaking out takes several withdrawals out of that account. If you absolutely cannot make it to something you committed to, let them know as soon as you can. Include the very important reason why you cannot make it. And in that same call/message, try to offer another specific time that works to hang out together.

– Not reaching out because they haven’t reached out to you in awhile. Falling into this trap means you both lose. You lose because you’re left thinking they don’t care about you or are upset with you, they lose because they might be thinking something similar, and you both lose because you don’t get to spend quality time together.

–  Waiting for something “better” to do to come up. It often doesn’t, and now you don’t have anything fun going on this evening. Plus, you have missed an opportunity to invest in the friendship account by committing to plans with them earlier.

Lastly, if a relationship is really important to you, double down on all of the above. If you tend to forget to respond to calls or messages, put reminders in your phone. (“Hey Siri, remind me to call Gramps today at 7pm.”) Also, check your messages and calls at the end of the day to make sure you didn’t forget to get back to one.

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(Photo: Pragser Wildsee by Elena Morelli)

Responsiveness will build the kind of relationships that withstand the hard times and give your life meaning. Enjoy reaping the future rewards of your current relational investments, be it lunch with your grandfather, happy hour with your work colleague, or that weekend hike with your friend.

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Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist, and lives with his wife in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Make Better Connections and Richer Friendships

Next time you are hanging out with someone or a group you’ve just met, resist the temptation to give them your resume. “Here’s where I work, this cool degree I have, the distant place I recently traveled to, some impressive fact about myself, yada yada.” This won’t create much of a bond with your new friend. It’s most likely to create more distance between the two of you. And the result will be them giving you their resume in return.

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(Photo: Rhododendron Park Kromlau by Jacob Riglin)

Instead, ask your new friend about themselves with genuine interest. Then, when it’s your turn to talk, share a funny story about yourself or about a unique situation you were recently in. Particularly if it’s one that you don’t come out as the hero. Or, if you are feeling particularly daring, tell a mildly embarrassing story about yourself. Share that thing that you usually edit and don’t talk about. (But avoid stories that are overly personal, traumatizing, super gross-out, or one in which you ended up really angry, as these type of stories will have the opposite effect.) This type of sharing that leaves you somewhat exposed will cause the other person to then do the same. And it is in this vulnerability, that deep bonds are forged and strengthened.

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Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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One Way to Reduce Fights with Your Spouse and Loved Ones

Sure, I’m a relationship and couples therapist, but I am certainly not immune to arguments and disagreements with people close to me. Wife, friends, family. You name it. In fact, having a fight, getting through it, then still being close after is a sign to me of a close relationship. And all relationships are going to have arguments at times. If you don’t think so, let me burst that bubble for you right.. now.

Before I share with you one of my favorite things to do when an argument does start, let’s talk a little about your nervous system. It’s governed by the part of the brain called the amygdala and is just chilling most of the time. But when we experience threat it takes over. It takes over by flooding the body with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and puts us either into fight or flight mode (occasionally into freeze).

Which is a great response… if we are facing a lion. Or if there is some other genuine threat in front of us that we need to physically fight against or run away from.

fight-or-flight-caveman

Problem is, since we don’t live in caves anymore, those types of threats are increasingly rare. But our brain’s evolution hasn’t quite caught up with this detail, and kicks into fight or flight mode quite often. It kicks into this mode for things like road traffic, running late for work, or a big meeting with the boss. It even happens when we are in a perfectly safe situation, but our brain senses threat because it starts thinking about something in the past or future that was/could be scary.

So as you’ve probably guessed by now, our amygdala also takes over when a disagreement starts (Lion, EEK!) with the person we are talking to. Unless you are a Zen Master perhaps. But for us normal, non-Zen Master folks, that fight or flight mode in turn takes us out of the parts of the brain that govern rational thought. Then we start saying and doing things that are coming from the amygdala thus a fight or flight place.

fighting-porcelein-dropped

(Porcelain Metamorphosis by Martin Klimas)

Initially, indications that we are getting into this mode are more subtle. Tone is a little sharp. Voice is elevated. Language is slightly aggressive.

But then the other person’s amygdala takes over and they get into fight or flight mode too. Here’s where things really start to go south. Not south like a trip to the Bahamas.

maldives-oeons

(Baa Atoll, Maldives by lennble)

South like bad. Heart rate is up, blood is rushing, face may be flush, body temperature elevates. And since we are both in fight or flight mode, we start talking faster, louder, more angry, more aggressive with our words.

Pretty soon, one or both of us says something really ugly and someone heads for the door or slams the phone down.

Okay, getting back to the title of this article. The way to reduce fights with our spouse or loved ones happens first by getting our amygdala back into chill mode, so that our rational brain can take over again. Continuing to argue with the person in front of us is not going to help us get there. In fact, just being around that person might make it difficult to get back into a relaxed, less activated state.

So, we need to take a few minutes or a few hours to allow that to happen. It can be nice for the other person, particularly if they are your significant other, to know that you are taking those few minutes. (That way they don’t just think you are abandoning them or the whole situation. This way they know instead that you are taking care of your nervous system, which in turns takes care of your relationship.)

Something I coach my couples to say here is “Let’s take a break from this conversation,” or “I think I need a timeout.” What’s key here, is you don’t want to mistakenly tell them you are leaving the relationship. You are just taking a little bit of time to let your amygdala get back to normal. And if you have the presence of mind, give them a time estimate. “I’m going to take 20 minutes to calm down.” If that amount of time goes by and you are still pretty agitated, you’re always allowed to come back and let them know you need more time.

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(Highliners taking a timeout in Monte Piana by Balazs Mohai)

During this time that you’ve now set aside, do something that is calming to you. Contrary to what we were told many years ago, punching a pillow is typically not a very calming activity. But there are a slew of alternatives including: take a walk, meditate, do a few stretches, draw a bath, go to a workout class, play a sport, watch your breath, read, take a nap, or really anything that helps your amygdala and autonomic nervous system to get out of fight or flight mode. Side note, if you are leaving to do one of these activities, tell your loved one that is what you are doing. “I’m going to take a drive to relax, and will be back in an hour or so.” That way they aren’t getting more upset while you are gone.

That’s it. It absolutely takes practice and hard work. Just like any worthwhile relationship, or really anything worthwhile for that matter. But it works. And pays back in dividends. Let me know how it goes.

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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Three Simple Ideas that Changed my Life by jockobutters

You  might know I’m a huge reddit fan. Such a great site for silly gifs, inspiring videos, pictures of cats. Of course. And the occasional interesting bit of news or worthwhile read.

I’ve been poking around there as usual and stumbled across this article that really got me thinking. I actually woke up thinking about the second one last night.

Let’s get right to it.

Three simple ideas that changed my life by jockobutters

I’ve been wanting to write down these ideas for awhile in the hopes that someone else might find them useful. I know this sub has a tendency toward contrarianism, and I certainly do not intend these ideas to be “universal” – but just wanted to present these things that have personally worked for me and can maybe benefit someone else. If I slip into direct address and say “you” – I’m really just referring to myself.

Long story short – about two years ago, I hated where I was in life. It was the recognition of these three ideas that kept me going and helped me to turn my life around. I should add that these ideas aren’t original, but things that I’ve come across during that time and paraphrased one way or another.

1. The human being is meant to bear the burden of 24 hours — no more, no less. If you live in the future, you will get anxious; if you live in the past, you will get depressed. Twenty four hours is all that you have to live in. Give up all the other burdens to the universe, to god, to your cat, to whatever – but the burdens of the past are not yours. The burdens of the future aren’t yours either. Let them go. The day is your material. It’s what’s in front of you, it’s the only thing that you have the power to change or to shape or to use. It’s your canvas. It’s your material. So use it well.

the moon keeper

(The Moon Keeper by drudy222)

2. Happiness is not something you can pursue – but instead the byproduct of doing the right thing. We get so tripped up thinking that happiness is an end goal — and then get frustrated when it slips through our fingers. Instead, focus on whatever the right thing is – and happiness will follow. Feel like shit at the end of the day? Maybe it’s because you ate a tub of ice cream for dinner, forgot to call your mom back, blew off homework to play video games, etc. On the surface, those are all things that should make you “happy” – but I’ve found that when I’m feeling most depressed, its usually a factor of actions I either did or (more likely) did not do. If you’re passively waiting for happiness to wash over you like a wave — it’s not going to happen. Instead, take action, do whatever the “right thing” is, and that feeling of warmth and fulfillment will follow of its own accord.

Every line goes through the whole image

(Every Line goes through the whole image by no_more_gravity)

3. The world’s idea of success is total sh!t. Don’t get sucked into it. On television, on the street, when talking with friends or family – it seems like everyone confuses the concept of rewards with success itself. Whether it’s money, fame, recognition, praise, sex, the rewards are not up to you — they are all dependent on someone else. Instead, think of success as sustained effort of will. It begins and ends with YOU, and no one else. Think of any fantasy or goal you may have — say you’ve always wanted to be a great artist. Imagine it. What does that look like? I guarantee you’re thinking about palling around in Paris with beautiful women and having your artwork admired in galleries and being given the nobel prize – basically you’re fantasizing about having been a great artist and not actually making the art. That way of thinking can totally mess you up because it once again puts the emphasis on passive recognition over active, sustained effort. The more you shift focus onto your own actions, the more you create sustained effort, and the more likely it is that the rewards will follow.

What only exists in the mind

(What only exists in the mind by AscendingStorm)

Lastly, as a bit of an addendum – it’s good to remember the difference between stopping and quitting. This helps me when I’m feeling a bit lost or down on myself — or during those times when I’ve just chucked these three ideas to the wind and sat on the couch all day instead. If you’ve ever strayed from what you feel you were supposed to do or who you were supposed to be – remember that everyone has to stop. Whatever it is we’re doing, whatever our grand ambitions are in life, we stop. We have to stop. We have to take a piss, or go to bed, or go on vacation, or we have a kid and not have much time to ourselves etc. But quitting is stopping without ever beginning again. So as long as you’re here, as long as you’re alive and pulling air through your lungs, you can begin again. And if you begin again, then you haven’t quit. So f*cking begin again.

Hope this helps someone out there.

[Article is by jockobutters and originally appeared here: https://www.reddit.com/r/GetMotivated/comments/4vfiju/text_three_simple_ideas_that_changed_my_life/?st=iraz3ote&sh=5bb954d4]

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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Increase Enjoyment by Reducing Choice??

Ever wrap up a long, stressful day with that desire to stretch out on the couch and watch that perfect movie or new TV show?

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Yes, quite often in fact”, then you and I have one more thing in common.

So you start scrolling through Netflix or Rotten Tomatoes, checking reviews, looking at ratings, and watching trailers. Twenty minutes go by.

You’ve narrowed it down to 2 or 3 that look promising.

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Finally, you take the plunge and click on one.

You watch it for several minutes. Then you think to yourself, “Man, this is kind of mediocre!” And you’re somewhere between bummed and irritated. You did all this research and still it doesn’t result in anything great to watch.

So you pull out your phone and start scrolling through FaceTwitt or Snaptagram. Or you pull up the other movie/show that you were thinking about watching. And any way you slice it you just can’t seem to find anything that enjoyable to do.

Bummer. I know right! 

So what happened? Well, your brain and modern media played a trick on you. Here’s the dealio:

#1: Let’s start with the brain.

We get overwhelmed by choice. Paralyzed in fact. A study from Columbia University by Professor Sheena Iyengar proved this point. They did their study on people purchasing jam from a roadside stand. They found that when presented with many choices, study participants are 50% more likely to stop by the jam stand. (Name of my next rock band btw.) Paradoxically, they are 1/10th as likely to make a purchase at the stand with lots of jams to choose from.

So let’s connect the dots. We think we like to have tons of options, eg. Netflix. But when presented with so many choices, we become so paralyzed that we have tremendous difficulty making a choice. Or don’t at all.

#2: Modern media makes us believe that it can help us find the perfect restaurant/app/entertainment for us to consume right now.

It presents us with a ton of options that are immediately available in our pockets or with the click of a button. Then it uses algorithms and recommendations and reviews and aggregators to help us decide which amazing thing to consume.

Trouble is, someone else’s opinion or review about a thing will likely not be the same as ours. Our moods, who we are with, substances in our system, what kind of day we’ve had, and a host of other factors are much more likely to impact the actual experience we have. Lastly, many great movies or widgets are only going to be a few percent “better” than the next one. So whether it has 241 reviews and 4.7 stars or 1,192 reviews and 4.6 stars, the actual experience is going to be fairly similar and more dictated by factors directly related to you (eg. mindset, who I’m with, how I feel today), thus not quantifiable by reviews.

So what can you do about it? Good news: there are a number of things you can do to avoid choice paralysis and get more enjoyment out of your decision.

  1. Keep the research you do fairly short. Whether you’re on Amazon or Yelp or Netflix, make your decision within a few minutes. That way you won’t get sucked into the belief that you have found the perfect widget/restaurant/movie – spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist. (Exception big ticket items: do a little more research for these on Cnet.com or ConsumerReports.org.)
  2. Go in with an optimistic perspective but low expectations. A negative perspective will automatically reduce the joy you get out of it, plus put a damper on people around you. High expectations only have one likely outcome: disappointment.
  3. Try to forget about the other options you were considering. When you are just having an alright time watching the movie or eating the food, it’s tempting to begin to regret your choice and imagine that the grass would definitely have been greener if you had selected Applebee’s instead. This effectively reduces the enjoyment you are having, plus it prevents you from really being present in the moment to enjoy this right here.
  4. Remind yourself that the other thing probably was about equally as good and you can always try it next time. This way you are not fixating on what you are “missing out on” and in turn missing out on what’s right in front of you.

Love to hear how it goes for you. Let me know in the comments below or by shooting me an email directly.

(Columbia study referenced appeared in the New York Times article Too Many Choices: A Problem that can Paralyze.)

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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How do I Find a Good Therapist?

A lot of my friends and family have reached out to me over the years to ask how to find a therapist. So, I wanted to share with you what I’ve shared with them on navigating this often tricky territory. Also, I realize how exasperating and tiring it can be to find a good therapist!exasperated cartoon person

 

Whether you don’t know where to start or have simply given up after tons of phone calls, here’s an easy guide to finding a solid therapist:

  1. Zero in on the one or two things you are looking for support with. This could be support with a relationship, past trauma, anxiety, a recent loss, or anything that is reducing the quality of your life.
  2. If you know any therapists or friends who have seen a therapist, ask them who they’d recommend. If you feel comfortable, also let them know the general topic you’d like support around.
  3. Call several therapists. Most of them will offer a free consultation either over the phone or in person.
  4. Schedule a first session with the therapist you liked the most. A good relationship with your therapist is the single factor most likely to help you achieve what you want from the process.
  5. If you don’t connect with any of the therapists you talk with, be it over the phone or in person, call a few new ones.
  6. If you can’t get any recommendations from friends or don’t connect with your initial therapist referrals, head over to www.PsychologyToday.com. Look for a therapist in your local area who focuses on the thing you need support around. Similarly, don’t go to a therapist who only specializes in grief if you’re looking for support in relationships. Also, it’s perfectly okay to have a gender, age, or other preference when choosing your therapist.
  7. Finally, call several therapists and work with the one who resonates with you the most.

If you are looking for a Couple’s Therapist, try to find one in your area who specializes in EFT therapy. You can do that by asking around, or searching for it on Psychology Today’s website or Google.

If the therapist you reach out to does not accept your insurance or any insurance whatsoever, call your insurance company to find out if they offer partial reimbursement for the session fee.

Finding a good therapist can be difficult and expensive. The same is often true for a good restaurant or a solid pair of running shoes. How much is your mental health worth to you?

Expect to spend $150-200 per 50 minute session, possibly more or less depending on the cost of living in your area. If you do not have insurance and finances are tight, let your therapist know during your first conversation. Some therapists set aside a few sliding scale slots for clients with financial need, so it can’t hurt to ask.

As for how long the process will take, it’s a little different for each person and dependent on what you want to work on. In my work, I specialize in relationship therapy and couple’s counseling, so I expect to work with clients for at least 6-12 months.

Lastly, although it is often pretty daunting to know where to start and to actually take that first step, it can be an incredibly meaningful and fulfilling process to be a part of. And I’m speaking from experience.

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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How to Increase Your Productivity. Now. 

I often reflect on how to get more out of the time I’m allotted each day. Both in work as well as my personal life. So I flipped on a favorite podcast this morning called ‘Freakonomics’, and a productivity expert named Charles Duhigg was on. Sweet right!

Panorama experiement 90 degrees

(I’ve heard cool photos equal more readers, so here’s one from reddit I like.)

I often reflect on how to get more out of the time I’m allotted each day. Both in work as well as my personal life. So I flipped on a favorite podcast this morning called ‘Freakonomics’, and a productivity expert named Charles Duhigg was on. Sweet right! 

Duhigg had interviewed over 400 people for his bestseller ‘Power of Habit’ and boiled down the 8 things that came up again and again:

1. Motivation: we trigger self-motivation by doing things that make us feel in control.

2. Focus: we train ourselves to pay attention to the right things and ignore distractions by building mental models and narrating to ourselves what’s going on around us.

3. Goals: we need both a stretch goal and a goal that we can achieve tomorrow morning.

4. Decision making: the best decision makers tend to think probabilistically of multiple hypothetical futures, then try to think of which one is most likely to occur.

5. Innovation: the most creative environments are the ones that allow people to take cliches and then mix them together in new ways. The people best at this have their feet in a few different worlds and can figure out which ideas will best click together.

6. Absorbing data: sometimes the best way to learn is by making data hard to absorb. The harder we have to work to understand an idea, the stickier it becomes.

7. Managing others: the best way to tap into an individual’s unique talent is by putting the person responsible for solving the problem, closest to the problem.

8. Teams: who is on a team matters much less than how a team interacts.

Now go get ’em.

Get the full interview from the Freakonomics podcast here: http://stitcher.com/s?eid=43881554&autoplay=1.

Jeremi McManus, MFT Psychotherapy and Couples CounselingJeremi McManus is a Relationship Therapist, Couples Therapist, and Author who works with people who want more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. His own ups and downs in dating and relating were instrumental in leading him into this field. If you feel like you could use some perspective, he looks forward to hearing from you. Jeremi is a Licensed Psychotherapist and delighted to call San Francisco home.

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