#730: Social media surveillance and the possibly creepy freelance client.

Dear Captain and Awkwardeers,

I have a potential freelance client, who I might do some paid work for if he can ever get around to sorting out funding and letting me know how much I would be paid for what work.

While all this is being sorted out he and I have been emailing back and forth about the topic of our professional interest. He is knowledgable though I have more knowledge about the specific project he wants to do.

I have also met him a couple of times — for coffee, in daylight, for professional business meetings.

Anyway, more recently this potential client, let’s call him Doug, has been emailing more frequently and has suggested we talk on the phone a few times about work issues. However, his conversations have mostly been about other, non work issues and he revealed that he has been tracking me on social media. Specifically, he does not have a Twitter account but he is very very familiar with everything I tweet and has brought up a couple of things in conversation as evidence that I am “stressed out” as he put it and “need to relax.”

The tweets in question were me remarking that I had blocked someone for being offensive and using profanity which I don’t like on social media. Apparently Doug read this as “she is very stressed and hurt about this big incident where a man threatened her!” when in reality I was mildly irritated and forgot about it immediately I’d told my followers I’d blocked the silly troll. Oh, and when we speak, Doug also calls me by my Twitter user name which is not a nickname I use in my personal life. (it’s a name based on an animal that sort of sounds like my actual very common name)

Another time he asked me if I had “relaxed” at the weekend because I tweeted I was going to watch a play after a very hectic work week with lots of tough deadlines.

My Twitter is open, it’s a mix of personal and professional stuff as I have developed a group of followers who are interested in my life. So it’s open for him to read. But as Doug keeps insisting, he has not got an account himself so it’s not like I am one of the folks he’s following. I find it creepy that he is reading everything I write there and commenting on it, that he calls me by my user name  and the fact that he tells me about it makes me feel surveilled. He never ever comments on the professional stuff, which I would have found totally fine. It’s always the personal stuff and he always reinterprets it through this “poor little stressed lady” lens.

This weird feeling crept into our last  physical meeting, he shook my hand by taking my hand in both of his and sort of pressing it and then he said “bye, bye, sweetheart” which is not how people in my profession behave here. Things are “formal friendly” but you don’t call women this stuff AT ALL EVER.

This dude is my age by the way. 

Am I over reacting to find this creepy-ish? It’s like Doug wants to go over a line of being professional and be my friend but we just don’t have that background. Am I over reacting if I don’t want him as a client? Maybe he is just being friendly and he is a bit awkward around women (my profession is almost totally male dominated and quite macho) but I feel really weird about it all.

Slightly Creeped Out

Dear Slightly Creeped Out:

I would like to offer you validation: Yes, your feeds are public, so theoretically everyone can read them so it is difficult to say “um, stop reading that” and yes, Doug’s behavior is strange and cloying, especially the “sweetheart,” the use of your handle to address you in conversation, and the way he is clearly monitoring the personal things you share and thinking about mundane passing stuff you’re doing in your free time days later. A script like “My dude, there is a place that you could have real time conversations with me about what I ate for dinner yesterday and that place is called Twitter, and also, my name is _________, not @__________, and also, don’t call me ‘sweetheart’ ever,” will get a huffy and unsatisfying “No I wasn’t!” response. His goal might be friendship, might be romance, might be collegiality and wanting to keep you interested and available for the work while he patches together the funding, and the social contract makes it hard to call him on anything directly until he makes some direct move. So, trust your instincts. If his annoying behavior is bugging you, then it’s bugging you, and it’s okay to make decisions based on that.

Fortunately, you can absolutely fire freelance clients you don’t want to work with, and you don’t have to give reasons or even *have* airtight reasons. Also fortunately, I think there is a way to reset this client relationship with Doug to a strictly professional one and leave the possibility of paid work open.

To reset this, your script for anything personal he says is some variation of “Heh, interesting. So, about work topic …” and your overall strategy is to ignore him until he contacts you next, and then ask him directly: “Doug, do you have any news about a scope of work or funding?” and if he says, “Not yet, but let’s meet up and talk about it more” you say, “Thanks for the invite, but I don’t have time this week. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you about (field & topics), but I need to prioritize other clients right now and put our discussions on the back burner until there is funding and an agreement in place. Please do reach out when you are ready to move forward with a project and we’ll talk about a realistic timeframe.”

His reaction to what is a completely reasonable boundary (“It will be great to work with you, but I have to focus on paying clients and deadlines“) will be telling. If he’s cool and professional, you can probably work with him. If you get pouting or sulking or attempts to take the conversation to a personal place, like, “I thought we were friends!,” etc., then you’ll know what’s up. In the meantime:

  • Can’t meet him for coffee…you aren’t getting paid!
  • Can’t talk to him on the phone…you aren’t getting paid!
  • Can’t send him emails about work or not work…you aren’t getting paid!
  • Don’t have time to talk about your stressful week or stuff he read on your Twitter feed…you aren’t getting paid!
  • You could spend time trying to interpret his motives and his behavior, but…you aren’t getting paid!

You met up with him, you emailed back and forth with him about your professional interests, you’ve done all you can to be friendly and market your services and set yourself up to be considered for work. You don’t have to meet endlessly with potential clients or give them free labor (& emotional labor of interpreting/fending off their odd behavior). If he does eventually come through with paid work, great, maybe you’ll do it or maybe you’ll be too busy or “too busy.” In the meantime, give yourself permission to not think about him at all. Put that energy into other clients who don’t creep you out.

239 thoughts on “#730: Social media surveillance and the possibly creepy freelance client.

  1. Even if he gets the funding, he won’t be a client you want to work for. Drop him now. A reason I like to use when dropping a client (when possible, given my lawyering rules for ending attorney-client relationships) or when choosing not to take on a client is “I’m sorry, I don’t have the capacity to take your work on right now. But I can refer you to someone else. Best of luck in your endeavors.”

    It’s hard to pass up paying work, but seriously, this guy’s not going to be worth whatever he could possibly pay you.

    1. I tend to agree with this. It’s also a good time to remind freelancers that a “needy client markup” is a thing. What amount of money would make you *want* to work for that guy, not grudgingly, but happily? Cool, that’s what you charge.

      1. Ooh, I definitely do that. I had a very needy client who kept asking for visits outside of working hours, and at a greater scope than the previous job and I quoted her 2x my previous rate.

        So you can even jack up the rate after you begin work, if you need to. (She stopped asking for the out of scope stuff, and stayed on as a client until I was able to get enough other work and fire her, since the original project was finished)

      2. My family ran a very small service-industry business when I was growing up, and had me doing the filing as soon as I could reliably alphabetize. Occasionally, I’d see a notation in the file with “KFK” and a certain dollar amount. When I asked what it stood for, I was told it was “keep from killing,” and yeah, it was the abusive and/or terminally-flaky client mark-up.

        1. PITA* tax, ahoy! In one tablecloth and napkin/four course restaurant I worked at, the occasional ticket would come to the kitchen with PITA discretely marked in one corner. That was our notice to get that order cooked as quickly as possible, and notification that gratuity was going to be added to that table regardless of size. Normally, tip wasn’t automatically added for anything smaller than a 6 top, but there were exceptions. Like people who ran their server ragged and made lengthy special requests, while having an air about them that nothing, not even perfect service and meal, was going to make them happy enough to leave even 15%.

          Spouse, who is self employed in a service field, likewise has a PITA tax for potential clients he feels are going to demand more attention and labor than the job is worth to him. He bids a bit high on a job, and if the people accept his bid then he feels he’s being fairly compensated, but if they decline, he’s saved himself the stress of a client he didn’t really want to work with in the first place.

          *pain in the ass

          1. Similarly, many of the bike shops that I’ve worked at use “extra cleaning fee” as a subtle PITA alert. Unless the bike is actually caked in mud, which is what that charge is actually for! “Secondary test ride recommended” also sneaks on there…

          2. With respect to a professional services bid, how does one add a PITA tax after the bid has already been accepted and the job commenced? Sometimes it’s not apparent at first that a client will turn out to be a PITA. Would not changing the rate only lead to conflict?

            As for the restaurant example, I can’t imagine a cooperative patron (let alone a PITA patron) being very happy to discover that an automatic 15% tip had been added to their check without their consent. Is this even legally binding on the patron? In my experience, when restaurants include a mandatory tip (usually for a large group) the patrons are always alerted in advance when the reservation is made.

          3. the occasional ticket would come to the kitchen with PITA discretely marked in one corner. That was our notice to get that order cooked as quickly as possible, and notification that gratuity was going to be added to that table regardless of size. Normally, tip wasn’t automatically added for anything smaller than a 6 top, but there were exceptions.

            Iiiiinteresting. This reminds me of one of my evil ex/his best friend’s “favorite” stories to tell, about going out with a group of friends, sitting at two separate tables (each less than the “automatic gratuity” number, but right next to each other), and then getting pissed at getting the gratuity charge. This story was always accompanied by anti-Semitic “jokes.” (Which was probably why it was a favorite to tell; opportunities for casual anti-Semitism don’t come around every day, don’tcha know.)

            Now I’m seeing a distinct possibility that it wasn’t “waiter being a jerk” (their version) or “waiter made a mistake/company policy” (my versions)….but more likely “waiter realized they were assholes.”

          4. Absolutely. I am a landscape estimator, and we frequently put an extra cost in our preliminaries labelled “buggeration factor” for particularly obstreperous or prone-to-vacillation clients.

      3. LOL my husband used to work with a high-end landscaper who put in amazing gardens for extremely wealthy clients. Every time the client wanted something changed (after things were planted) or wanted a three acre English garden to grow over night, or screamed at him because he hadn’t planted any black roses (there is no such thing IRL), my husband’s boss’ motto was: “Add another zero!”

        And when my husband was doing freelance web work, he used to charge 3x his going rate for any changes outside of the 8-5 workday, and once charged 10x the regular rate when the client called him up at 3am because “the colors on the website are all wrong!” –> We pulled it up, and we think that probably either a. the client’s monitor was seriously out of calibration or b. the client was reallllly high.

    2. +1

      This unsettling behavior will probably get worse. He’ll likely feel even more entitled to your non-work related time/energy/attention when he is paying you, and disengaging will be exponentially more difficult once you are working for him.

    3. Yes, I’d strongly consider not taking him on, or at least strongly considering the benefits for you and whether they outweigh the emotional labor he’ll be expecting you to do uncompensated on top of the actual job. He is going to push your boundaries and keep pushing. Honorable people don’t dangle potential work in front of people and then abuse their power differential in this fashion.

      I’ve dealt with people before who just for whatever reason Did Not Get the norms of a particular social network and were acting in ways that were really creepy and inappropriate as a result. Sometimes this leads to pressure, internal or external, to cut them a lot of slack and forgive their ignorance. But this is just like any other form of creepy or harassing behavior: people who are truly acting out of well-meaning ignorance are in the minority. There are many, many more people using ‘well-meaning ignorance’ as a cover to continue being creepy, because they enjoy doing so and don’t care that it makes others uncomfortable.

      You are under no obligation to cut him slack, give him the benefit of the doubt, educate him about how the internet works, or teach him how to talk to other humans. If he wants that kind of feedback, he can pay a professional social coach to help him out.

      1. Yeah this is kinda my feeling with some of that “so and so is just awkward/not great with social norms”. Great. So was I. But I bothered to learn what the norms were, and check in with people. “Oh if you let them know what they’re doing wrong, they’ll improve/ they have improved in the amount of rude and creepy they are”. And? dude, you’d better be paying me if you want me to be your social skills teacher. I’ve got enough trouble allocating spoons for socializing sometimes, and I don’t need this crap on top of it.

        1. What finally got me over my guilt over “maybe they’re just socially awkward and it’s mean to nope on out” was encountering a case where someone played the “but I didn’t know this would bother you” card about surveilling people’s twitter accounts, months after several other people had very publicly asked them to stop the exact same behavior.

          People who write the Captain are explicitly looking for advice about social norms and how to speak to humans. People who are being weird and creepy are not looking for that. Could be because they don’t know they need it or it could be because they’ve heard it a dozen times before, but either way, not my problem!

      2. My long term rule regarding the genuinely socially awkward vs the creepy – the genuinely socially awkward are the newbies who don’t know or are learning the rules of the game, and they will make newbie mistakes, in a newbie fashion. They will tend to be obvious to everyone, and they will tend not to keep making the same mistake over and over again (modulo personal learning time). Creepy types are rules lawyers – they know all the rules and sub-clauses of them forward, backward and sideways. They will exploit the rules, and the gaps between the rules. And because they know the rules, they won’t be as obvious as someone who is genuinely socially awkward – in fact, their lack of obviousness is a big clue. They know the rules, they are perfectly capable of complying with the rules when they want to – they just don’t want to in this particular instance. They’ll also try on the same thing over and over again, apparently never learning from their past experience (or rather, the main thing they learn from past experiences in being caught is how to cover up what they’re doing in a more effective fashion).

        1. Yup. People who really don’t know any better will be as inappropriate to their boss as they will to the freelancer they’re potentially hiring. They’ll do it at times and in places that cost them socially, because they genuinely do not understand.

          By contrast, when creeps say “I didn’t know,” what they actually mean is “I didn’t know there would be consequences.”

          To them, boundaries aren’t about the actual humans they are hurting; they’re about determining the maximum they can get away with while maintaining an acceptable level of consequences. If you introduce a consequence they weren’t expecting, then suddenly you are changing the rules of the “game” in the middle, and they are more concerned about the fact that you’re “cheating” than that they’ve done something hurtful.

          1. Agreed: this guy knows he’s pushing LW’s boundaries. He’s already tried minimizing her values and agency by telling her she was stressed out and needed to relax just because she set boundaries about someone else’s offensive and profane posts.

          2. “you need to relax” is only slightly below “calm down” for “most useless/infuriating sentence in the English language.”

            It’s ESPECIALLY weird for someone to say that about some twitter feed they read from, like, a day (or even an hour) ago. Like, he was just holding on to that. (Doubly uncomfortable is that pretty much the only situation I can imagine “you need to relax” being not-infuriating is in silly flirty settings.)

          3. This. For me, I often look at whether the person in question divides their inappropriate behaviours along gender lines–are they weird, creepy, and inappropriately touch-y toward men, or just women? Do they say inappropriate things to people higher on the food chain than they are, or only to people who will experience negative blowback if they protest?

            If inappropriate behaviours only move one way–from the creep to people who have or are perceived to have less power or credibility in a given context or situation–the creep is doing it on purpose. Period. Always.

            I mention this one a lot in these circumstances, but the grad student from another department who only grabbed and stroked and fondled female classmates, never males–he wasn’t innocent, despite his claims. He was low-key assaulting everyone he could get away with assaulting and then making excuses about his social ineptitude, and he was a big creepy horrible liar. (He also smelled really bad and made a lot of unsupportable assertions in seminar, just in case fondling his classmates wasn’t bad enough.)

        2. That’s an interesting insight. It reminds me of something Lundy Bancroft said:

          (paraphrased) Abusers will often claim to have anger-management issues. But people with genuine anger-control issues will have that show up in all aspects of their life. There’ll be a record of it: they got evicted from their apartment after yelling at the landlord, they’ve lost friends, they’ve been arrested for picking fights in bars… etc. If they only “can’t control their anger” when it’s directed at specific people (i.e. their partner), they have perfect control, they’re just abusive.

          1. Massive agreement here. I know someone who is horribly abusive to certain people. They make excuses for it because “He is disabled. He can’t help it.” Yes he can. He doesn’t so much as squeak at people who can hurt him back, even if he is furious at them. That shows enormous control, not a lack of it!

            I can guarantee this guy does not behave like this with all his business contacts, so why should the LW have to put up with it? Let him find someone else.

        3. +1 to this! I’ve been the socially awkward person and it’s not a place one wants to linger for longer than absolutely necessary A person who seems to pick and choose when to be awkward may just be exploiting plausible deniability.

        4. Can I quote this elsewhere? You’ve just summed up perfectly something I had been having an issue with some Bee-filled folks. While it was more on the unkindness side and the creepiness side, I think this goes a long way to pinning down one of the issues I had been having with someone where it looks like they’ve been selective about what parts of the social contracts they abide by. Things make sense now!

    4. Yes, this. You are not overreacting. Your feelings are valid. Your feelings were valid before the enfolding handshake but that just takes the cake. He’s inappropriate and either doesn’t know or chooses not to follow social niceties because he can get away with pretending not to know. You will probably feel much, much better when you cut his cloying ass loose.

      1. Yeah, I’m still trying to crowbar my shoulders away from my ears after reading about that handshake.

        1. I had one of those (with BONUS! hand patting) when he ALSO shook the men’s hands properly AND I was actually in a position of authority over him recently enough that my previous comment started off three times as long and about 1000 times more profane before I edited it down for clarity. I went through a lot of hand sanitizer that day and spent the next hour venting my spleen all over the other people who were there first for dude’s creeperhandshake then for the fact that neither of them even noticed.

    5. I was coming here to say this, and now I don’t have to.

      Plus, someone who uses cloying behavior with a new business contact strikes me as someone who’s vying for a discount based on a forced sense of emotional closeness. Plus-plus, if he behaves like this when you’re not even getting paid, LW, I wonder how he’s going to act when he feels he has purchased himself an entitlement to your undivided time and attention. (I do not wonder actually, I think I have a pretty good idea. People like this tend to go from cloying to bully very quickly).

      To recap: Not-even-a-client-yet believes he has the right to police your personal feelings about other men who behave inappropriately, call you by nicknames, and engage in inappropriately familiar physical contact just because you have met for coffee, emailed, and may at some undetermined point in the future have a brief, temporary business arrangement. Wut.

        1. Heh, thanks.

          I really strongly feel like dudes who police women’s reactions to other dudes’ inappropriate behavior are telling us straight up they are people who will, at some point, also behave that inappropriately, and are pre-emptively attempting to set the stage to get away with it.

          1. If this weren’t so long I would embroider it or tattoo it on my arm or something.

            also, goes without saying, but a man urging a woman to “relax”/”cheer up”/what have you is SUCH a red flag. They’re not comfortable with women having negative emotions (even if that emotion is just “tired”!) or being anything but cheerful and compliant at all times.

      1. Yesss. And there’s something about the way he insists on his interpretation of her as “stressed” that really weirds me out. He’s either setting her up as perpetually overwhelmed (and maybe in need of rescue?) or demanding that she put a lot of effort into somehow proving to his satisfaction that she’s Not Stressed, Really, No Seriously I Am Not At All Stressed Right Now. I don’t know what, exactly, he’s up to but I’m pretty sure it’s sinister and no good.

        (Probably what onamission5 said about strategizing for some imaginary buddy discount. Ick!)

        1. I’m the observer of an abusive relationship in my family, and I have noticed that the abuser repeatedly talks about how stressed and tired the abusee is. It does the double whammy of a) looking like genuine concern and b) allows the abuser to absolve themselves of any and all responsibility for the emotional damage they do.

    6. I have a sneaking suspicion that the funding is never going to materialize, frankly. It sounds awfully like he’s stringing the LW along.

      1. This is EXACTLY what I was thinking. Which is why the advice the OP was given is *perfect.*

        1. +1 My feeling is that the money is taking so long to appear BECAUSE HE’S A CREEPY CREEPING CREEPER WHO CREEPS–um, ahem. Sorry, sometimes my pinky spontaneously stabs at the caps lock when I am CREEPED THE HELL OUT. Sorry. What I’m trying to say is that I think this guy might be a little, um, what’s the word? Creepy? Yeah, he’s a little creepy. I got to the part where he’s telling you how to feel and be and started yelling, “RUN, GIRL” in my mind. It seems to me that if he actually does hire you with a contract and everything, that will change the nature of your relationship in a way he doesn’t want. That will make it officially professional, and he will be held to a professional standard of behavior. Right now, he can sidle up as a “friend” and take up your time, but there’s no strings, amirite, it’s all copacetic. Plus, he’s got plausible deniability. Plus, he’s got power over you, because if you want this job, you have to play along and make nice. I just really feel like he’s grooming you. He feels like the kind of guy who later, when you finally have to draw a hard line, is going to play the victim and accuse you of “leading him on.” So, yeah, creepy. I’m gonna go with creepy.

          1. YES. He’s drawing out this “courtship” period as a way to test boundaries (or no funds are coming or never were coming, and he’s enjoying toying with the LW and trying to insinuate that she’s living her life incorrectly according to his passing, irrelevant, and arbitrary standards), and his behavior here is as blinkered as a hiring manager who thinks that an applicant should be groveling and compliant at all times, willing to put up with any amount of nonsense for peanuts and the “thrill” at potentially landing a new gig. Interviews, screenings, pre-contract meetings: these work in both directions, to weed out cranks as well as unsuitable colleagues. The LW holds most of the cards here, and doesn’t sound desperate enough that working with Doug is a financial necessity. But the pre-emptive power trip Doug’s already embarked on here is telling, and the fact that he’s already preening and power-tripping indicates that he doesn’t understand how freelance work, well, actually works. This kind of behavior gets most clients kicked to the kerb or, as mentioned, a hefty PITA fee.

      2. Yes! Was just coming down here to make sure I wasn’t the only suspicious jerk who was thinking that 🙂

      3. I, too, thought that he is stringing the LW along and does not intend to offer them work.

        This actually happened to me while I was unemployed and it was hugely demoralizing. I lost a prestige job and could not get an interview anywhere, even applying at hourly-wage employers like Whole Foods. A food service guy at one corporate chain kept holding out the possibility of hiring me on part-time, I think just to keep me coming back to talk to him. It happens.

    7. Seriously. Think about the amount of money you’d want to put up with this guy’s bullshit. Would he even come close to paying you that? Is he just dangling the possibility of work in front of you to have an excuse to keep in contact with you because he’s creepy? If you can come up with a bullshit-to-cash ratio you’re happy with, and he’ll actually pay it, then maybe, but Doug is not the only client in the world, and right now he’s not even that because he’s not forking over any money for your valuable time.

    8. I’m inclined to agree.

      There’s also this subgroup of clients who, on some level, feel that by paying you money for your work, they are doing you a favor. They’ll lean on that even after the transaction has been completed. Nevermind the utter nightmare people like that can be while doing the work itself.

    9. Much time freelancing makes me think this guy when presented with a bill, will say, “But we’re friends! I can’t believe you’re charging me/ not giving me a discount!” Does anyone else get Forced Teaming from this guy?
      For bona fide work, I write in Net 30 days and there’s language for Change Orders. Add-ins are documented and an email of what is approving the Change Order is signed off. Great paperwork and a contract are your friends.

  2. Ugh, that sounds really uncomfortable. Holding your hand within his hands and calling you sweetheart? IMO, that warrants a “[please]/hey, don’t do that again, it makes me uncomfortable”. “But I was just being friendly!” “Friendly is shaking my hand, not calling me sweetheart or by my Twitter handle”.

  3. Reminds me a bit of this article: http://the-toast.net/2015/07/13/emotional-labor/

    He’s asking for your time and attention, and right now anyway he’s not giving you anything in return other than the dubious privilege of interacting with him. No need to do that if you’re not enjoying it. (And yes, I find his behavior bordering on the creepy too. Stalking someone on social media is not a good way to start a friendship in real life.)

    1. That was a great link – thanks for sharing! I think it applies to this situation too – LW does not want a personal relationship with this client, so she is literally getting nothing out of their current interactions. She definitely does not owe him time and emotional labor – unless she wants to charge extra (per the Captain’s “needy client markup” suggestion).

      1. Next time my ex sends me a long email and I think about reading it, I promise myself to read that metafilter instead.
        P.S. a huge thanks to CA and all (or, most) of the commenters for the support you’ve given me in getting out of that relationship. Your writing has made me feel so much less alone.

    2. Love so hard that article! In response to my comment about invoicing a male friend for listening to him mansplain the wage gap, a fellow commenter developed an ACTUAL INVOICE. The Google Drive link is long or I would post it here!

  4. LW, you are totally not overreacting! My personal benchmark for the “is someone being creepy?” is “does it make me feel squicked out? Yes? It’s creepy (at least to me!).” I have one or two very trusted friends I will sometimes do a ‘sanity check’ with regarding situations but for the most part, you’ve tripped my Creep-O-Meter? I consider you to be creepy.

    I have to agree with the first comment – this guy has already taken up quite a bit of your time and brain space and he isn’t even paying you yet. Something tells me that “scraping together the funding” will be something he’ll draw out as long as possible. I’d “fire” him as a potential client, or at the very least, keep your contact super perfunctory and 100% work related until he does have a specific job for you, and even then I would seriously caution you against taking it.

  5. I do think it’s okay, if the LW decides to continue the professional relationship, to say, “Please, call me [real name.]” Tone of voice will be as if you were offering informality (like, [real name] instead of Ms. Lastname.)
    If you don’t NEED the client, though, it’s probably not worth the stomach acid. And, so far, there’s been no $$ anyway, so he’s just timesuck.

    1. I agree is is VERY okay to say that, and it sets an important professionally boundary. I actually go further in my professional life: I give one inappropriate nickname, or one “honey” “sweetheart” or “princess” and if it happens again, I interrupt with a very matter-of-fact “I’m going to stop you right there. My name is ____.” As far as I’m concerned, calling me by name professionally is not optional, and I find that when I say please, people think I’m making a request that they can decline.

      “but, explanaaaaations” of all variety are met with a noncommittal agreement “I can understand that. But my name is ____.”

      It usually goes surprisingly smoothly as long as I don’t engage or bring up any history of other inappropriate behaviors. And I find that when I have said this, it frequently completely switches attitudes toward me from condescending to respect. Not always, and it doesn’t always go smoothly, but mostly, it’s made a huge difference since I stopped asked and started telling.

      1. I really like prefacing it with, “I’m going to stop you right there…”. It seems kind of a male-coded phrase and I love co-opting it for this scenario.

        1. I KNOW. So unlike the “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry, but…” we’ve all been socialized to use. Don’t apologize; just shut it DOWN.

        2. Huh, I hadn’t thought of it as male-coded, but now you’re saying it, I can see it-and that might explain why that phrase makes so much a difference in overall attitudes not just name-usage.

  6. I concur 100% with the Captain. I am self-employed like you LW (and naturally friendly and helpful), so I sometimes get sucked into stuff like you are describing. What works for me is reminding myself that “I’m not getting paid for this,” like the Captain said. Until they actually walk in the door and hand you money (sign a contract, etc.), you don’t actually owe them anything. The script is perfect, and his reaction will be telling.

    I have this kind of thing happen all the time because I work in healthcare. People want to tell me their whole story over the phone, but honestly, until I get them in my office with the proper paperwork filled out, there is really nothing I can do. I am more than happy to listen to a short version on the phone to say if I think I can help them or not, but I cannot afford to sit on the phone and listen to a 20-60 minute story – I don’t get paid for that, and it takes my time/attention/help away from my actual paying patients. Another relevant point is that these people never (in my experience) actually convert to paying patients. Or if they do, they are non-compliant (do not come in at the recommended treatment frequency, don’t follow at-home recommendations, etc.) so they have a minimal chance of getting better, then they turn around and bad-mouth you on social media or to other people.

    It’s also harder for me to “fire” a patient than it is to fire a client because of “patient abandonment” rules, so I have to screen potential patients before I treat them. Honestly, him acting this way is a gift because you are getting a preview of his behavior so you can make an informed decision of whether or not the money is worth his behavior. If he responds well to your boundary-setting, that would be great, but you will likely always be on edge as long as you work with him. Only you can decide if it’s worth it! (Personally, I don’t think so.)

    1. There’s also this: even if this guy DOES eventually gie you a contract/agree to hire/whatever your standard “now I’m hired” milepost is, will he pay you at the end? In my (and whole family’s) experience, “clients” who start out like this frequently (almost always) end up trying to deny payment for a variety of bullcrap reasons. He’s already bilking you for your time (which is valuable!). Clients (and potential clients) should not get an unlimited amount of free consulting/haggling/schmoozing. Even when it’s all about the job, which this case is not.

      Would you trust this guy, the way he’s creeping and stringing you along, to pay you (fully and promptly) after the job was completed? Because I wouldn’t.

      1. Exactly! I cannot charge patients in advance, but ugh I wish I could sometimes. I would definitely recommend that the LW write a contract for 1/2 now, 1/2 later is she does decide to work with him.

        I once had a guy try to haggle me on my prices (they are posted AND he signed the paperwork in two separate spots) AFTER we had completed his initial visit. Not only did he try to haggle, but he also lied to my face saying that “the lady I spoke to on the phone said it was X price.” Fortunately I didn’t miss a beat and replied, “The price has never been X, it has always been Y. Y is what you owe today,” and stood my ground. Later when I spoke to my employee about it, she told me she had never talked to him – only I had. So he tried to claim that /I/ told him the wrong price! I was livid. But I made sure that he paid immediately in full after each visit.

      2. “end up trying to deny payment for a variety of bullcrap reasons” <–THIS.

        I also thought maybe he's milking the personal connection/lengthy string-along to try to talk her into starting the project for free with promise of later payment (which will ne-ver materialize).

  7. Man, that is creepy. I think what raises it above run of the mill clueless creeper for me is him telling you he doesn’t have a twitter account. That means that you can’t block him to stop him from seeing your tweets. I would put money on him knowing that and using it as a way to rub your nose in his boundary pushing.

    If you decide you do want to work with him I’d tell him you aren’t comfortable talking about your personal life with clients. If he pushes by ‘helpfully’ informing you that your twitter feed is public just repeat that you aren’t comfortable talking about your personal life with clients ad nauseam. Same with him calling you by your twitter handle. Just repeat that that isn’t your name until he gets bored.

    But I’m mostly with the captain in thinking you should just client-dump this guy now, especially since he hasn’t paid you for anything yet.

    1. Minor detail recommendation: Just tell him you “don’t talk about personal life with clients,” full stop.

      Telling him that it makes you uncomfortable means you’re making a request for him to respect social courtesy (which he already isn’t doing), it’s potential leverage for him to use against you, and besides all that your discomfort is a personal thing and as you just said you don’t talk about personal things with clients! Also it is useful to remember that you don’t owe him even that much of a reason for your policy.

    2. I think what raises it above run of the mill clueless creeper for me is him telling you he doesn’t have a twitter account. That means that you can’t block him to stop him from seeing your tweets.

      Which, as you said, is almost certainly why he said it.

      And that’s what makes me think he DOES have a Twitter account, and it IS one of your followers, because stalking someone on Twitter whom you don’t follow requires a fair bit of effort. Much easier just to make an account and follow you, and if he says he doesn’t have one, you won’t go looking for it to block his creeper ass.

    3. I totally agree this is a creep, and that he does in fact have a twitter account, one which he probably reserves entirely for surveillance of whichever unfortunate women catch his eye. Him letting you know he’s doing that is in fact the creepiest thing about it, in my view. I’m one of the crowd who wouldn’t have him for a client at any price.

      But let me also suggest that you think over your policy of mixing the personal and professional on social media. I’ve given this a lot of thought for myself, and come to a different conclusion. While I totally wish to work with people who’re compatible, and this seems ideally one of the perks of working for yourself, it’s not fully reality. I think I could summarize my position like this: mixing the 2 domains invites creeps to intrude into your personal life. And gives them a pretext (if only to themselves) for being better informed than you’d otherwise wish them to be. So since this seems to be happening a bit here, you may perhaps give a shot to the other approach and see whether it works better for you? (and let me be super clear that I’m in no way implying that being saddled with this particular creep is your fault, it’s not at all!).

      Also, what is the hell is this thing about chastising people for ‘profanity’ on a semi-professional account? It’s so fucking inappropriate! You get my drift :-). It’s fine to put out public reproaches about specific misbehavior, but again I’d argue that doesn’t really belong on a professional account at all. Even on a personal one though, it’d be more effective to stick to criticizing the underlying attitude (“Elmore’s post reeks of sexism because”) rather than taking the angle that attacks would be fine if couched in flowery language. It may be ‘social’ media, but would you actually kindergarten-shame another grown-up like this in real life?

      1. ” While I totally wish to work with people who’re compatible, and this seems ideally one of the perks of working for yourself, it’s not fully reality.”

        I agree with you. I’ve known lots of idealistic folks who have tried to “mix the worlds”, but eventually gave it up when reality smacked them in the face. All worked for themselves. Some were entrepreneurs offering professional services, some had small businesses featuring inventive products, some were musicians.

  8. I’m not a freelancer but as a sales rep/account manager part of my job is building relationships with potential future clients in my region, so minus the creepiness this comes up every now and again for me. I think its always valid to prioritise actual paying clients over people who want to keep meeting but never have any projects to talk about and show no signs of having any money. Only you know what’s normal for your industry, but in mine I’d have written this guy off months ago as the kind of person who wants to look busy but has no real intention of ever getting anything done.

    Although for what it’s worth I’d be tempted to avoid this dude even if it made good business sense to keep up this series of pointless meetings, because ew.

    1. I really do wonder if this not-even-a-client-yet has any intention of actually being a paying client, or is stringing LW along for the ego boost of feeling like they have Important Business in which a professional ladyperson* pays a lot of attention to them.

      *This is not always a gendered dynamic, as my self-employed spousedude can attest, but it is often a gendered dynamic. Also usually gendered, ladypeople feeling like we have to do, and put up with, whatever it takes to get that client or keep them, because all interpersonal dynamics are our sole responsibility to manage, even if we don’t actually like the other person or want to be around them or particularly have an interest in being liked by them.

  9. “Am I over reacting to find this creepy-ish? It’s like Doug wants to go over a line of being professional and be my friend but we just don’t have that background. Am I over reacting if I don’t want him as a client? Maybe he is just being friendly and he is a bit awkward around women (my profession is almost totally male dominated and quite macho) but I feel really weird about it all.”

    So I’m not a freelancer, but I do work in a male dominated environment (engineering), and my previous job was on the macho side (oil and gas industry). Professional dudes who are awkward but friendly around women don’t behave that way. They understand professional norms and typically at worst will put their foot in their mouth and then get embarrassed about it. Unprofessional dudes who have issues with women, on the other hand, are the ones who use pet names in a professional context, and in my experience, have a tendency to ignore what you say until a male coworker says it instead. These were the clients I dreaded working with, and couldn’t avoid since I was assigned to their project. Fortunately, that same lack of freedom to say no also really limited the amount of direct interfacing I had to do, so no awkward coffee meetups for me, just occasional excruciating design meetings.

    You are not overreacting. *I’m* finding it very creepy, and I’m only reading about it second-hand. I wouldn’t work with this guy. It reads to me like he’s either using the freelancing relationship to hit on you (which is not at all okay), or he’s doing some weird power-play thing, which is even worse. I’d definitely stick to the Captain’s script, and if he balks at resetting to “friendly but *professional*” (emphasis on the professional part, which includes payment), then drop him. You don’t owe him anything.

    1. THIS.

      People who are well intentioned but awkward are noticeably well intentioned. Creepers are noticeably creepers. You have noticed. Now trust yourself.

    2. Excellent observation. I’ve had a couple of jobs where I worked with men who were in very male-dominated fields, and the awkward guys were just that… awkward. They’d be tongue-tied, or you’d catch them looking at your boobs and they’d get really embarrassed that you caught them at it, or they’d make awkward conversation to try to figure out if a. you were seeing someone and/or b. if you’d go out with them–but they weren’t creepy. There’s a big difference between creepy and awkward/unsure, and your gut is a the best detection device for creeper.

    3. I have worked in very male dominated environments and very nerdy environments and places that were very both and I agree that this is a silly myth. Awkward men who are perfectly nice and non creepy don’t ‘accidentally’ act in creepy ways. They just don’t.

      If anything, a guy who’s just awkward might tend towards being a little extra professional and distant rather than the other way around, or tending to be extra prone to taking things as a hint to go away, certainly not the other way around.

      1. That isn’t quite true, IME. A friend of mine got freaked out when her housemate walked into her bedroom and stared at her, and wouldn’t say a word. We all agreed it was creepy, but he left after 5 minutes and went back to his room. It turned out he’d had a stroke and couldn’t talk!

        1. I would have thought this was probably implied, but just to be explicit, then:

          Awkward men who are perfectly nice and non creepy don’t ‘accidentally’ act in creepy ways except in cases of major medical emergency (which is clearly not what’s happening here).

    4. I also work in a male-dominated field and you’re totally right, there’s a huge difference between generally friendly men that occasionally get weird, and creepy dudes who will exploit grey areas. LW’s potential client is just straight creepy, no shame in dropping that hot potato.

    5. Yup. Other reasons I wouldn’t want to work with him are that all the interpersonal stuff implies that he seems to lack good sense — which means he’s liable to lack good sense in things like defining a project well, understanding the impact of change requests, approving of the completed job, and making timely payments. Payment in advance and contracts in writing with prices on change requests, if you *have* to work with him.

      1. Indeed. The LW already knows he’s unprofessional; he’s not going to magically become professional when/if the funds materialize and work starts. So the LW would be stuck with working for this extremely unprofessional guy, whose boundary-observing for work purposes likely isn’t any better than what is being described in personal behaviour.

        My best guess is that the funding is not going to materialize anyway, it’s either long since not a possibility or it’s a remote one being used for stringing-along purposes and rationalization.

    6. Dear LW

      You aren’t overreacting, he’s a creep and he’s creeping on you.

      One other script you might try is “my pre-sales consultation rate is [some amount of money that would allow you to happily talk to him.] ”

      When, not if, but when, he says “but I thought we were frieeeeeeeeeends” you can say, “yes, and that’s why I’ve given you my friends rate” (although I think on 2nd thoughts, no). or you can say, “I thought we had a professional relationship”

      But basically I think that it might be a good thought experiment to imagine if there is any amount of money that makes him bearable. Then imagine getting that money (or a significant portion of it) up front. How likely do you think that is?

      (Because I think he won’t pay even if you get a contract)

      So yeah. Feel free to fire his creepy stalker ass now.

  10. If you are feeling creeped out, you are feeling creeped out. Your instincts are telling you something is off with this guy, who is trying to establish a level of intimacy that is not wanted. Listen to those instincts. Start screening his calls, and don’t respond to overly personal emails. Reset the professional boundary by not engaging in any personal conversations, and don’t meet with him in person again. If he pushes for more meetings, simply say, “I’m sorry, with my current workload I am not taking on any more clients right now. Best wishes!” Hopefully, he will get the hint if you stress the words “professional” “client” and “workload” in any and all conversations moving forward.

  11. Another thing to consider: documentation. If you go forward into having a paying business relationship with this person, get everything in writing–moreso than you would with the usual client. Handle as much of the communication in writing as possible. Make sure the contract involves a way for you to abandon without completing project safely, etc. And if you follow the advice to abandon this potential client now (a solution that I heartily endorse), then document all past, current and future interactions too. You want a strong paper trail in case this gets ugly rather than pouty. Again, handle as much of it in writing as possible. And bring a third-party to any future get-togethers with this guy, including any where you client-dump him.

    Basically, follow all the principles for dealing with a stalker: documentation, safety, exit strategy, witnesses, etc. Because that’s what he’s already demonstrated doing. Trust your gut on this.

    1. This is excellent advice, especially the bit about a third party: “Hi Doug, great to see you. This is Angie, my business partner. She’s new to the field, so she’ll mostly be hanging back and taking notes while I show her the ropes.” Angie maybe is your new business partner, or she maybe is actually your BFF/sister/college roommate. Doesn’t matter. Angie is there in a professional capacity, and you are paying her in lattes for her work in this business meeting. “Human Shield” is a professional title, right? She can put it on her resume.

      1. Oh man, I want to make business cards as an official member of ‘Team You’. My closest friends and family can totally pay me in lattes to help deflect or factory reset awkward social situations.

        1. That’s a great idea. If anyone needs an Angie in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I volunteer. 🙂

  12. Even if you weren’t getting all this validation from the Awkward Army, you would still be fully within your rights to say that this guy creeps you out and you don’t want the hassle of dealing with him.

    My social group used to subscribe to the fallacy that any given “weirdling” would either be weird and creepy where everybody would notice it, or it wasn’t that he was ACTUALLY creepy it was just someone being oversensitive. Eventually we came to the conclusion that this was in fact bullshit, There is no need for anybody to put up with being in someone’s presence when they get that creepy feeling, even if nobody else around feels it. It’s possible for people to pick and choose who they’re weird at, and unless there’s some sort of situation where you are providing a required service like filling a prescription or something, there isn’t even any need to find someone else who can help the weirdling.

    1. My social group used to subscribe to the fallacy that any given “weirdling” would either be weird and creepy where everybody would notice it, or it wasn’t that he was ACTUALLY creepy it was just someone being oversensitive. Eventually we came to the conclusion that this was in fact bullshit,
      PREACH. Some people know perfectly well what they’re doing and however they choose to justify it to themselves, it amounts to “I know I can’t get away with this if there are witnesses, but I can and will be a creep when it’s he-said-she-said!”

  13. LW: I’d honestly be surprised if he ever starts paying you.

    He’s demanding a lot of your time, energy, and attention – which he’s currently getting for free – and he’s pushing a lot of boundaries and making a point of letting you know he’s watching you.

    This is sending up my “danger” flags, but also my “waste of time” flags.

    Captain Awkward’s suggestions for actions through-which you can re-establish a hard professional boundary – “can’t deal with you right now – I’m not getting paid” – are pretty damn spot on. I think implementing them immediately is a really good idea.

  14. As a former long-time freelancer, I’d be creeped out too, but I think I’d just be mad more than anything else. This “Client” is taking advantage and waiting your time & energy, and you need to call him out on his unprofessionalism.
    I agree with what the Captain wrote. Start the meter running. If this guy is serious as a client and just socially awkward, let him know in no uncertain terms that he will be billed for any future correspondence. A business meeting is a business meeting is a business meeting, whether it takes place in a coffee shop or an office; whether he actually talks business or just wants to find out if you’re relaxed or not. So bill him for client meetings. And do so incrementally, i.e., after first meeting, send an invoice with 30 days to pay — no payment, no further communication. He wants to know why? “Your account is in arrears.” (Har. See what I did there?) Money’s a pretty good indicator of whether a client is serious about a job or not. Like others said, it’s a good litmus test of whether or not this is a real gig, or just a waste of your time.
    “Show me the money!” And good luck in your career. 🙂

  15. He’s indeed a creeper but I have to point out that by blocking a troll on Twitter then tweeting about how/why you blocked him sounds like an inflammatory action on your part since it only draws attention to the troll and keeps his conversation thread alive. The better move is to block the troll and make no explanations or apologies for it.

    Tweeting about an annoying troll also broadcasts the fact that you are the kind of person who gets easily rattled and/or quite possibly the kind of person who gets a small thrill out of negative attention. Even if that’s not true, it’s still the message you send when you chose to reward their harassment with a response. You also explicitly and publicly stated what gets under your skin, which shows the trolls and creepers alike that you are vulnerable and precisely how you are vulnerable, which is unwise.

    My suggestion is to cut this creeper out and don’t turn back. Also, in the future, stop including personal stuff in your professional social media. Unless you are in the business of personal topics like the Captain here, there is no good reason to expose yourself in this way.

    1. Woah, no no no no no. Demanding that people stay silent in the face of online harassment so as not to ‘be inflammatory’ is not cool.

      Also in many professions it is totally normal to blend professional and social in the context of a twitter feed.

      You seem to be blaming the LW for someone else’s stalky and unprofessional behavior and hand grabbing and nickname-calling and timewasting because the LW is…doing social media wrong…?

      Nope. First bus to Nopeville Arizona, sorry.

      1. Yes, I am indeed critiquing the LW’s response to the troll. Twitter trolls are just like bad Yelp reviewers or negative YouTube commenters. In what context does it help to blast an angry response at them? Never. It never helps you or your business. To respond with an angry tweet or a string of No’s is to indulge in your own outrage, which expends unnecessary energy, which gets you nowhere.

        Do you see celebrities engaging with their trolls? No. Because when they do, it flatters the troll. That will always be true, no matter what decade we live in. Also the reason why no further action is required is because the troll has already implicated themselves by leaving a public record of their obscenities. So the hard part of bringing the injustice to light has already been done for you. There is no crime in ignoring a troll.

        1. http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/phillips-dont-feed-trolls-antisocial-web/

          Sometimes, calling a troll a troll is a form of taking control over dialogue back and reasserting one’s right to curate one’s space as one sees fit. Sometimes women don’t need to be told what we are, or are not, needlessly expending our own energy upon, or what our motivations are for the actions we take. We’re pretty good judges of what is and is not a good use of our own energy and time.

        2. Burdy – and you are critiquing her social media troll policy on a thread about gauging someone else’s inappropriate work behavior for why?

          I don’t know why you are so fixated on this troll. She could have dealt with the troll a thousand different ways, and none of that would change the fact that this dude is creepy and boundary encroaching and wasting her time. If not that post, another one. If not Twitter, the same number of non-work phone calls about something else, and a nickname or a diminutive he’d invented himself and the same number of bye. sweethearts and sweaty hand squeezes.

          1. THANK YOU. I’ve been in class for a few hours and was a bit behind on moderation.

            @Burdy, we don’t need the lectures and the LW doesn’t need advice on how to handle annoying Twitter followers. Your opinions are noted, this subthread is off-topic.

          2. But LW wouldn’t be getting sweaty hand squeezes if she wasn’t, like, having hands at him in public. She should just walk around all day with them pulled up inside her sleeves, so even if he’s following her around, he doesn’t catch a glimpse of palm tempting him to leap out and grab it.

            (…that was sarcasm. just in case it needs to be said. because it’s kind of close to the sort of thing our friends on the Social Media Police Force seem to be saying seriously. unless they’re meta-trolling.)

    2. Your advice is not really at all helpful on this.

      I use my twitter (and tumblr) as both a professional space for talking about projects and work and as a space where I mention personal stuff. If someone’s being a jerk/skeevy to me on one of those platforms they’re gonna get called out. Saying that it makes me and others who do similarly ‘easily rattled’ or someone who gets a ‘small thrill out of negative attention’…nah 😐 Calling out bad behavior doesn’t reflect on me as much as it does the person engaging in the bad behavior. The ‘dont feed the trolls’ idea is BS and outdated and not at all helpful. Let’s not promote it.

      People should deal with trolls and harassers as they are comfortable with.

      Also – one reason people actually follow and engage on social media is if someone posts personal or not-just-work stuff. The LW already gave her reasons for why she posts personal things so…advice that she just ‘stop’ is not really helpful.

    3. Well god forbid a woman say out loud what she thinks about people who behave inappropriately. That’s just asking for it! Best we keep ourselves isolated from any potential support, fail to warn other women what they may be in for, and fail to name inappropriateness for what it is, because that definitely doesn’t contribute to a social climate in which creepers and harassers have unlimited unsuspecting targets plus plausible deniability, nor does it foster a sense of isolation for said targets. Yes, we must be silent in our actions and unfailingly polite at all times. That is the best way to stop trolls, harassers, and other bullies, and also the best way to let other targets know they are not alone, by ignoring them and shutting up about it.

      (this comment may contain traces of sarcasm)

      1. You can have no legal expectation of privacy in public arenas. This whole idea that we should be able as women, or as ANYone to say anything, expose anything, and reveal every detail, and expect no one to ever react in a way we dislike is absurd and harmful and absolutely NOT the same as being censored. We’re not talking about failing to call out creepers, we SHOULD be talking about boundaries, and intimacy circles, and oversharing. I can’t even CARE about this ridiculous new social construct that says “BLURT! oh please, blurt any thought that crosses your mind, do it publicly and do it often, Be offended if your public disclosure of your personal details draws weirdos like moths to a flame. It’s your RIGHT to be offended. You SHOULD speak out if your airing of any thought and all detail seems to be attracting the entire gamut of humans…..SOME humans just don’t have YOUR right to freedom of speech and action.”

        Nope. ALL the nope. Grow up a little and realise that what you put out publicly, you have to deal with and own publicly, and that will include all the other types of people that there are. Then decide how you want to deal with the creepy part of humanity, because they are out there as well, and in theory should have just as much right to freedom of blurt.

        I know, I know, how very anti”feminist” of me. I’m too old to play this ridiculous game of billboard lives and eternal offense.

        1. Your terrible straw man arguments are showing again. Not having a legal expectation of privacy isn’t the same as not wanting to be harassed or the same as identifying harassers when they do it or the same as agreeing to interact with every single person’s opinion in real time.

          1. Alrighty then. No, it’s not. But you mustn’t be terribly surprised when what you put out publicly draws in a full representation of the world’s humanity, and you need not trouble yourself to interact with all of them. Why is this so difficult? The guy’s a creep, he liked the overshare, and showed up. Send him packing. The end.

          2. The end indeed. Goodbye, D. I hope you find a website that loves the good olde days as much as you.

        2. “Then decide how you want to deal with the creepy part of humanity” – OP *has* decided. She’s decided to block them and call them out on Twitter. (IMHO a lot better decision than “sit back silently and take the abuse” but it’s none of my or your business to judge for her.)

        3. So your thesis is that if women don’t want to deal with creepers they should just…not say anything online that anyone might have an opinion about? Airing your thoughts publicly means that you should expect people to be creepy weirdos at you?

          No, you don’t have a ‘legal expectation’ of privacy. What you have, or SHOULD have, is an expectation that people not act like creepy douchebags in your direction every time you open your mouth. That’s not about your legal rights; that’s about basic manners. It doesn’t sound like LW is, for example, starting political arguments and then being upset when people disagree with her, which would actually be an unreasonable attitude; having a public social media presence doesn’t obligate you to interact with anyone who happens to stumble across it, anymore than having a conversation in public obligates you to talk to anyone who overhears it.

          If you’re “too old” to understand that, maybe you shouldn’t be opining on how social media works in the first place.

          1. The “but it’s LEEEEEEGAL!!” argument drives me up the fucking wall.

            Legality is beside the point, and not wanting to be harassed has nothing to do with it. We have a reasonable expectation of folks not being RUDE MOTHERFUCKING ASSHOLES whenever we’re expressing an opinion somewhere on the internet, or indeed daring to exist in public. I don’t CARE if it’s “legal” to take pictures up a woman’s skirt, it’s fucking creepy and horrifying and you absolutely deserve to have your camera equipment tossed in a lake and your fingers broken.

    4. People read my company feed because it has a personality. I hope that people who are amused at my social media presence will interact with me and then will think of me when they want to buy what I have to sell. When I have trolls, I block them and make a public announcement that they have been blocked. I *want* my followers to know that I don’t take that BS, and I want them especially to know that their kids that also follow me won’t see any nasty trolling BS on my feeds if I can at all help it. It also lets other would-be trolls know that the second they start, they’ll be blocked–so they might as well not bother.

      Or would you rather that I be quiet like a good little girl?

      1. This! There is more than one author I started following because their twitter/blog/facebook was entertaining, and because I was following them anyway I saw an excerpt from their new book and because I had good feelings about them anyway I took the trouble to read it, discovered I liked it, and bought myself some books.

        Also I thoroughly agree with the way you handle trolls. Keeping quiet is only good for the trolls themselves and for people who are weirdly invested in denying the incontrovertible and well documented fact that online abuse is a thing. I will not be quiet like a good little girl either. What I will do is side-eye the hell out of people who want me to swallow poison, smile sweetly, and ask for a second helping.

        1. Didn’t John Scalzi get a book out of/based in part on the Mallet of Loving Correction?

      2. It’s not about being a quiet little girl. Far from it. It’s about saving your energy. The same as how we learn not to JADE with abusive people or acknowledge the tantrum of a toddler, when it comes to trolls, zero response is in fact the loudest and most effective response of all.

        1. Not inherently. It depends on the nature of the troll. Some you just mute, delete, and block. But there are others who are far more persistent, and those are ones where it can be beneficial to call them out, draw attention to what they’re doing, and find some way to make trolling you unpleasant for them. It also reassures other commenters that your threads are a safe place for non-trolling people to participate.

          (One site I used to frequent had a commenting culture that was absolutely brilliant at using humor to render trolling ineffective. Turns out that a lot of trolls take themselves very seriously, and making fun of them can be an efficient way of encouraging them to stomp off in a huff. Other techniques I’ve seen used effectively are Ban Hammers, and disemvoweling.)

          I will agree that those techniques may require more energy than a site owner may wish to expend, however.

        2. That is not your determination to make for someone else. The LW dealt with a troll in the way she saw best, and attempting to second-guess her is inappropriate at worst and off-topic at best.

          And no, ignoring some trolls just allows social media abusers to hide their abuse better. And some trolls count on being able to dump a load of venom and bullshit on people without any response from their victims. You, personally, can choose to mute/block without comment, but you can’t demand that LW deal with her trolls the same way you would, because you are not the boss of LW and her already-made decisions are not your business.

    5. “Don’t feed the trolls” is so 90s. It’s advice that used to work in Ye Olden Dayes, when trolls wanted to rattle up indignation in a community and the best way to cope was to refuse to get sidetracked. In the new social media reality of the 2010s, trolls are usually orchestrated campaigns to isolate and silence their targets. The LW’s “vulnerability” is not getting agitated and upset, it’s getting scared and going quiet. With the new trolls, the best way to cope is to strengthen your ties to your community by letting them know what’s up, make it clear that you’re comfortable taking steps to ignore them, and keep on talking.

      1. Yeah, if someone is harassing you with the goal of getting you to shut up, shutting up isn’t an effective way to fight them.

      2. I thought this, from a relevant post by Greta Christina, might be a good fit in this point in the discussion:

        Interaction on social media is human interaction. It’s people expressing their opinions and feelings and experiences. Yes, people do this differently in different media: human interaction is different at cocktail parties, town hall meetings, conference panels, conference after-parties, quiet dinners among friends; yes, it’s different online than it is in person, and it’s different in different online forums. But it’s still human interaction, and people are still responsible for what they say and do. […]

        When you tell women, trans people, LGB people, and other marginalized people that [social media] just sucks so we should discount it or abandon it — you’re basically saying, “Your fight to improve the world shouldn’t include one of the central places where the world takes place.” You’re telling us to either isolate ourselves, or suck it up.

      3. Another important point is that in the 90s a lot of social media was Usenet or unmoderated mailing lists, where blocking the troll was either impossible or at least unlikely to happen. Even on moderated lists or newfangled webforums, the participants didn’t have the ability to block the trolls, because they weren’t the moderator. (And the moderators, even then, usually mentioned when they blocked a troll.)

  16. I am not terribly easy to creep out, and that guy creeps me out. He’s unprofessional and it seems like he’s trying so, so hard to be flirty and quickly jump into being your friend or a relationship or something. Maybe this is some perverse business tactic — “if she likes me she’ll go easy on me and give me a discount”? I don’t know. Either waqy…I personally, unless you really really need a client, wouldn’t take this guy on if I were you. Just because he gives me the heebies.

    But if you do need him, I like an earlier suggestion of the “annoying client markup.”

  17. If you feel like that about a client, you and they are incompatible, period. There is no way of reading this situation, even a pro-Doug one, that makes you people who should be working together. (Note: I am not pro-Doug.)

    1. Seconded! I was going to suggest that even if LW was overreacting (which is not even slightly the case), and even if Doug wasn’t being creepy (he’s being super creepy), no good is going to come of trying to force yourself to work with someone you can’t stand.

      LW, if it’s easier for you, I think you should feel totally free to tell yourself and Doug that you don’t think you’re the best person to help him with the thing and that you wish him luck finding a better fit (the “far far away from me” is silent). It doesn’t have to be about his bad behaviour if you would like to sidestep the self-doubt and second guessing women are trained to do, it can just be about the two of you not being compatible.

      1. “Rabbi, is there a proper blessing for the Czar?”
        “A blessing for the Czar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Czar…far away from us!”

  18. “Am I over reacting to find this creepy-ish?”

    Hi LW,

    High-tech professional who practically lives on social media here. In my opinion, you are absolutely not overreacting. This potential client has gone way beyond the bounds of professionalism and landed deep in creeper territory. It’s perfectly reasonable to check out a potential freelancer on public social media like Twitter for the purpose of professional vetting, but mining that material for overly personal conversational forays is definitely out of bounds for a client-freelancer relationship.

    I’d either terminate the connection or mark him up sharply. Don’t wait for him to tell you what he wants to pay. Send him a rate sheet for various functions and service that already includes your bonus fees for putting up with him.

  19. Doug sounds like the type of creep who thinks the friendly barista is in actuality flirting with him. His inability (willful or not) to distinguish ‘friendly professional’ from ‘friendly romantic’ is HIS problem, not yours – as are his boundary pushing, stalking, and inappropriate behavior. (To be clear, he’s making these problems an issue for you, but these problems are his fault and his alone – and in no way yours.)

    I wouldn’t give Doug the opportunity to reestablish a professional relationship. It sounds like you’ve already got all the work you can handle, and he’s already shown that he can’t/won’t maintain professional boundaries. I like the phrasing of Glomarization, Esq.’s script above, especially if you caution the referred person about Doug’s behavior in advance.

    1. “Doug sounds like the type of creep who thinks the friendly barista is in actuality flirting with him.”

      Oh, yeah. This is the feeling I get, too. And those guys really put you in a bind, because unless you’re curt enough with him to be truly rude, ANYTHING friendly that you do will reinforce him. All you can do is pull back to Uber-Professional Woman and deal with him telling people that you turned out to be a bitch.

      1. “Doug sounds like the type of creep who thinks the friendly barista is in actuality flirting with him.”

        This occurred to me earlier, and I’m glad someone else is thinking along these lines. I don’t know how to say this in a delicate way, so I’m just going to come out and ask.

        Is it possible that Doug hails from a highly patriarchal culture where the sexes are often segregated and females often chaperoned? I ask this because I’ve met recent immigrants and H1-B workers who are conversant in social media, yet whose understanding of western gender norms (especially in business settings) is not exactly 21st century. This can result in some very bizarre and unsophisticated boundary violations.

        These guys often mistake any friendly business contact with a female (especially a western female) to be a prelude to possibly Something More, and may mistake her appropriate business friendliness for encouragement. One sees it often with cab drivers in major cities who manage to convince themselves that their female passengers all harbor a secret desire for their company.

        1. Eh, what does it change if he is? I definitely got the impression he was just garden-variety creepy dude and speculation that It’s Because He’s Foreign feels kind of off. The Captain’s advice works anyway.

          1. It changes nothing at all. It merely adds another layer of nuance to possibly explain his creepy behavior. I live and work in a highly multicultural setting, and several details of the LW’s story instantly reminded me of guys I’ve known who are unfamiliar with social norms in the west with respect to gender (and don’t seem particularly interested in learning).

  20. He’s creepy, but possibly you’re oversharing on public social media. If you put it out in public, you get ALL of the responses. If that bothers you or you feel vulnerable, despite the ease of putting things “out there” it’s still completely ok to limit your audience instead of being on “public broadcast” at all times. You can have no legal expectation of privacy in public arenas.

    1. Didn’t you already say this above, and get called out for it? Just because you have no expectation of privacy in a public space, that does not mean that you have to put up with creepy behavior. It doesn’t matter why the creeper is creeping, it just matters that you make him stop.

      Substitute what you just said with “wear too sheer a blouse” or “walk alone at night” or “wear high heels” or “get tipsy at a bar” and then see how your comment reads.

      1. simple thing to note: while layered, conversations in this format aren’t chronological. I never said “don’t put up with creepy”. I just said “don’t overshare, and you’ll attract fewer creeps”. I think no matter how or what you put on public display, you have to accept that the creeps will appear in greater number. I have to laugh when people compare “where too sheer a blouse” with “man with no top” and then those same folks put up topless men on their FB feeds to gawp at. Yes, men get this sort of creepy behaviour directed at them as well. Yes, men get accosted walking at night alone. Yes, men get taken advantage of for getting tipsy at a bar. My comments stand, regardless. Don’t overshare, unless you are prepared to deal with the fact that it draws creeps like moths to a flame. If you ARE going to overshare, be prepared for your life to be more riddled with unhappy incidents of having to turn down/away creeps. If you’re ok with that, or with constantly feeling offended, go for it.

        In this case, creep was blocked and I don’t get what else has to be discussed, but “we should be able to do anything at all” isn’t the answer. Ever.

        Last time I said “Just make the creep stop” I was called out for THAT as well. “WHY,” everyone exclaimed, “should *I* have to be the one to tell Creepy to stop? WHY doesn’t Creepy just know it’s not ok? WHY does Creepy not respond to subtle-to-the-point-of-nothing body twitches or misinterpretable actions? WHY do I have to be responsible for my own level of interactive comfort?”

        Because. People. That’s why….because these absurd notions are not enforceable, and the world is NOT going to line up neatly with this idea that creeps should know better. It’s dangerous to think it will, because it entirely undermines individual power to say that the creep is the one that has to change. They won’t.

        I truly think that walking alone at night in a sheer blouse, while in high heels and tipsy, is a recipe for attracting creeps, and doing so is bad ju-ju that unfortunately will bring misfortune and conflict. I think doing so whilst proclaiming one’s incontrovertible right to do so is only slightly less foolish, because at least the noise will potentially drive off the less bold. Slam if you must. This entire topic makes me so furious because it’s so absolutely pollyanna and so disconnected from real life that it’s dangerous.

        1. “I went to a play this weekend” (as the LW described Tweeting) is NOT an overshare. Creeps and trolls will seize on literally anything you say to glom onto and attack. You are straw-manning so hard in the name of victim-blaming and “kids these days.”

          I do not enjoy interacting with you on my website and most comment threads you participate in quickly devolve into a headache as you explain and explain and dig your holes deeper. I think we have come to the end of you posting here. Goodbye.

          1. I could not help but read this comment in Anne Robinson’s voice. “You ARE the weakest commenter. Goodbye.”

    2. Talking about high-level social plans isn’t the same as oversharing. It’s exactly the same as the proverbial watercooler conversations, and the small talk at the beginning of a business meeting. LW gave no indication she was ~baring her ~soul on twitter, and she doesn’t feel “vulnerable” (there’s that “poor little stressed lady” lens, redux), she feels annoyed or weirded out; that is literally the point of this letter. Business meetings don’t stay at “how was that game/dinner/concert/weekend” for the whole meeting – they get down to business eventually, because everyone’s time is valuable.

    3. Since when did “I went to X play, it was great.” or “don’t Tweet me with swears” become oversharing? If Dude were participating in the conversation on Twitter, it wouldn’t be creepy.

  21. Pull back on the ‘topic of mutual interest’ talk, too. It sounds like it relates to a specific project of his, and if you’re mentoring him on how to approach it then you can reset the boundary as above with something like “I think we’ve covered all the basics in conversation. If you want me as a consultant on this for further development then we’re going to need a contract for my contribution to this project”.

  22. RUN AWAY.

    I won’t go on about why I think you should do that, LW, because enough commenters have already covered it very neatly. But one further reason is this: creepiness aside, you will just find Doug insanely irritating to work with, and do you really want that?

    It reminds me of a housemate I once had. Yeah, we were friends on Facebook and yeah, of course he could see (and had every right to read) everything I posted there. What wasn’t cool was the way he used to list everything I’d done socially and everywhere I’d been in the last however long, none of which I’d told him directly, as a way of “proving” that I spent too much time having an actual life and not enough time doing chores. This pissed me off not because of the chores thing per se but because of the way he continually scrutinised and commented on my every move. He also started calling me by a name I only allow certain people to call me, which he’d seen them doing on social media. In the end I just stopped updating my Facebook status to avoid him.

    The reason I mention this to you now is because it’s sort of similar to what Doug is doing and because this behaviour very quickly pushed the guy into Bitch Eating Crackers territory. It’s been many years and despite that and our large number of mutual friends, our relationship has never recovered. I would never, NEVER want to work with the guy for any money.

  23. Read Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” and you’ll see that your gut is your best friend when it comes to these things. I had a guy do something way less creepy than this at a “get to know each other” business lunch recently (I’m also a freelancer). Apropos of nothing he complained about his wife and then suddenly started talking about all the fascinating sexual imagery in French poetry and I was like, “Check, please. Gotta run.” So run. No, I mean it. RUN AWAY. Don’t work for someone like this because he’s got a flashing neon red flag on his forehead. 80%+ of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. This is the kind of early boundary pushing shit that leads up to an assault.

  24. I have a good friend who is a freelance IT professional, and unfortunately a lot of his clients are sickeningly unreasonable. My friend is a kind person, and wants to do a good job in his work, but “doormat” is not in the job description, so he has come up with a personal motto for dealing with clients, which is “Fuck you; pay me.”

    “Doug” wants your time and attention?

    “Fuck you; pay me.”

    If Doug ain’t paying, and is creeping you out to boot, then he can piss off or he can cough up the dough. And like commenters above have said, the PITA tax is 100% applicable. If you do decide to take him on, make sure the price is what you’d actually be willing to work for. And if your gut is giving you that nauseated feeling just thinking about it, maybe that price is “not enough solid gold bars in the whole goddamn solar system.”

    1. I should probably add that the Fuck you, pay me motto is definitely Beyonce inspired. 😉

      1. I always thought it was Goodfellas-related.

        I mean, ever since seeing that movie (and maybe getting a little too interested in historical gangsters), I keep that on loop in my head when dealing with potential clients undervaluing my work.

    2. +1! Fuck You, Pay Me is one of the best small business related mottos I have seen in a long time.

  25. I totally validate your creepy feelings. He sounds unpleasant. You are not over-reacting. You are just reacting.

    The only thing I don’t understand, is why you sound confused about what he is doing. I’m not there, but it does not read to me at all like he “wants to be friends” or “is trying to be friendly but is awkward….”

    Sounds to my old Reagan-Era ears like Dude is full-on, hardcore trying to “make time” with you. It’s yucky and you don’t like it, so please feel free to shut that crap down as overtly and directly as you want. Captain’s script is great as always, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with “That is not my name. Please call me RealName.” or “Don’t call me sweetheart, that is inappropriate.”

    He should be the one carrying the burden of the discomfort, not you.

    There is a chance (not a huge one, but statistically greater than zero) that he will straighten up and behave properly when you give him the Big Nope. But if he does get huffy, you don’t want to work with someone who won’t behave, anyway, so there is really nothing at risk.

  26. All this advice is awesome.

    My SO is in a service industry, and they have an inside joke that the fees shown on the rate card TRIPLE if the customer tries to help.

    Like others have said, though, there’s probably not enough money in the world to make working with this guy a fun experience.

    Best wishes to you.

  27. I am of the opinion that you need to close that door in a firm professional manner.
    His unprofessional behavior in taking your hand like that and calling you the patronizing pet name SWEETHEART is about as big a red predator flag as he could possibly wave in your face after stalking you on twitter. He keeps testing and testing to see how much more you will tolerate.
    I think you are reacting appropriately to the warning signs you are reading correctly.

  28. Everyone else has said a lot of what occurred to me in terms of are you sure the money will be worth it, he sounds like a major creepo, Warning: May be filled with bees, etc. I didn’t see this in the comments, though, so if you do decide that he’s straightened up and is worth whatever you’re charging him (seriously, charge him what would make it worth it, don’t let him negotiate a rate, which will pretty definitely be “not even remotely enough”), make very sure that you have exactly what work he’s negotiated spelled out on paper explicitly, and don’t let him feature creep on you. (Is that a thing?) He seems exactly the sort of asshole who will negotiate a project, then ask for “one little change” or “since you’re doing this thing can you do this other thing that I didn’t actually pay for” or “oh, I also want this one little thing that’s actually a pretty significant investment of time and/or effort but don’t bill me for it”.

    My personal feeling is still that he’s a creeper, and likely a pinata filled with Very Angry Bees. I also think that if you DO decide to fire him as a client, he’ll probably try to gaslight you and make you think you’re being irrational or oversensitive (especially given his ‘poor stressed lady’ lens). “What? I didn’t do anything, I was just being friendly!” or “I told you I was working on the funding, why can’t you cut me some slack?” *insert sob story about how he’s *really trying* and you’re being so unreasonable* Or possibly something similar to play on guilt, such as ‘this project means so much to me and you’re the only one who can do it pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease’. Whichever way you decide to go, please know that his behavior isn’t your fault, and any hardships he suffers because you either will not have him as a client or will charge him appropriately are his problem.

    1. @Ria – I agree. I think the guy’s use of “sweetheart” to the OP is his way of saying he doesn’t think he needs to take her work skills or her fee structure very seriously.

    2. Yes. And I would be minimalist in my explanation of why you were terminating this relationship. Don’t give him anything he can argue with.

      “After looking at your project again, I realized that I’d be a poor fit for what you need doing. I wish you luck finding someone more suitable.”


      “My schedule has changed since the last time we talked. I do not anticipate having any room for your project any time soon. If you wish, I can pass along your name to my colleagues to see if they might be interested.” (Obviously not adding “And I’d warn them to stay the hell away.”)

  29. I just wanted to agree with those who have said that you are doing absolutely nothing wrong by mixing your personal and professional identities on your Twitter if doing so suits you. And this “no legal right to privacy” crappe is just a bunch of irrelevant straw-manning bullshittio. And yeah, dude sounds super creepy and boundary violating.

  30. Quite frankly, Doug appears to have mistaken whichever field you’re freelancing in for the field of “paid escort”, where the main part of the job is basically performing emotional labour to suit the client’s interests. To my mind, this means you’re quite within your rights to contact the local ladies and gentlemen of extremely good repute (i.e. the highest-class, most expensive escort firm in your area) and find out what their hourly rates are, then invoice him at those rates per hour or part thereof for every single “conversation” which hasn’t led anywhere except to you getting creeped out. I suspect if you kick Doug hard enough in the hip pocket nerve, he may just get the hint that you want him to either put up the money and the work, or shut up and go away.

    So, next time he asks you to meet up to “discuss” things, present him with a provisional invoice for the work you’ve done so far – meetings, phone calls, frequent emails, hours put in, feasibility studies, excessive emotional labour surcharge, creepy dude surcharge, invasions of privacy surcharge, unprofessional client behaviour surcharge, et cetera. If he’s going to be taking up your time (time you could be using to work for other clients, or search for other clients) then he can damn well pay for it, and pay handsomely. Or else, he can damn well do without it. Unless you are actually working for that old established firm of extremely good repute, he is not entitled to your emotional labour – and even then, he’s not entitled to it gratis.

  31. I will bet you my pension that this guy doesn’t act like this with men he meets with professionally. There is no plausible deniability here – just Creepy McCreepster being a Creep.

    Nothing he pays you will be worth it. Even if he were a paying client I would still tell you to drop him.

    “I am no longer available to assist you with this. Best of luck in the future”

    I wouldn’t even offer recommendations – unless you really don’t like the person you’re suggesting he work with!

  32. I agree with the others that this guy is creepy, but I’d also like to add that it doesn’t matter if he’s creepy. Let’s pretend for a minute that a bunch of people here convinced you that his behavior fell on the right side of normal. You’d still have a guy who isn’t a client that you don’t want a personal relationship with. That’s all the reason you need to keep it professional– at which point you notice that you don’t have a professional relationship either. You’ve got a guy stringing you along.

    I owned a small business once. Pretty frequently I’d get people who would call to chat about their needs, but they wouldn’t place an order. They weren’t creepy, but they were wasting my time. This guy is wasting your time. There’s no reason you can’t tell him to contact you when he’s got his funding sorted out. (I bet that you never hear from him again, but that’s the professional way to handle it.) No need to talk to him about the services you might or might not be able to provide at some point in the future when he might or might not be ready to hire you. Depending on what business you’re in you might put together a package detailing what you can do for how much payment based on the clues he’s given you. That’s something that could be useful with your other clients so pricing it out isn’t a waste of time.

    Here’s another reason to cut off contact unless he’s ready to talk about hiring you: He’s already getting off on making you uncomfortable with the stalking-lite thing he’s doing and the unwanted advice. It’s possible that he’s actually not pushing for more. He might be the sort of creeper who likes weirding out women only a little.

    If you do hear from him again after you’ve told him a few times that you’ll do business with him when he has the money, and if circumstances make it impossible for you to avoid that weird handshake, follow the standard advice for weird touching: You draw your hand back suddenly and say loudly “what are you crazy?” or whatever else you’d blurt out if you weren’t minding your manners thinking you’d get a sale. If he or anyone nearby asks “what?” You say shake your head a little and say “that wasn’t a handshake.” For that matter, you can use this when he starts talking about how tense you are. You draw back, stare him down, and say “What are you nuts? Commenting on my need to relax? ” Then treat it like an accidental misstep. Make sure you act like you only blurted out what you did out of surprise because no one acts that way. You can even fake-apologize along the lines of “Oh, sorry. It’s just that what you did caught me off guard. It was so weird.”

    1. >> Let’s pretend for a minute that a bunch of people here convinced you that his behavior fell on the right side of normal. You’d still have a guy who isn’t a client that you don’t want a personal relationship with.

      YES. The social norms aspect and “is he or isn’t he socially awkward” are way less important than your subjective experience of being with him, LW. And your subjective experience is that being with him is fraught, stressful and annoying. That is all that matters.

      And even if he was a genuinely lovely person who just wanted to hang out, you would be justified in terminating the “friends” relationship that he seems to be trying to develop and keeping things professional, because that’s what you want. He isn’t entitled to anything from you except basic politeness and professionalism, and going for random drinks and having forced “personal life” conversation comes under neither of these headings.

    2. Definitely. There’s a reason why, when I’m making enquiries that may or may not lead to placing an order or booking a thing, I have my questions ready to go.

      When I’m looking at venues for dance stuff, for example, I lead with “I’m doing research about venues” and continue with “I need x y z, is this something you can provide?” This gives them the choice of how much time they spend on me, trying to get my business, and prompts them to let me know ASAP if going further would be wasting both of our time. There are more profitable things for me to do than talk to someone when we do not agree on whether I’m buying something or not!

  33. Another freelancer here saying what everyone else has said: Run from the bees. The captain’s script about prioritizing other clients is great, though I’d then suddenly be too busy to work with the guy should funding ever appear.

    And remember — you have no contract now, and everything appears to be a “maybe later” type thing. You can dump him now no matter what he says. I once had someone contact me for a freelance editing job that involved some very strange subject matter that was not really something I wanted to be associated with. It was in a field I can normally edit, but this particular project was a doozy. The guy started insisting that I was required to take on his project because I had listed myself in an editor database with that general subject as a specialty. Nope.

    And last, avoid tweeting about your current location and things you’re about to do that give away a location for a while. I can easily see this guy trying to track you down if you do distance yourself from him.

    1. Checking back in and seeing the Captain’s comments about not lecturing you on how to deal with Twitter trolls. I hope my post isn’t giving off that vibe, and my apologies if it is. But I felt like I had to say something because I know that I would not want anyone like Mr. Creepy showing up to an event I was planning to go to.

    2. “Required to take on the project”…
      That is such bizarro logic that I can’t even.

      I’d be tempted to respond that in that case, the people looking for a freelancer in that field can pay every person on that database a retainer fee.

  34. He wants into your pants. All of his contacting you starts with a professional pretext, but quickly segues into his true agenda: let’s hang out endlessly and chat on a social basis. All of his hand-holding and ‘sweetheart’ing is attempts to establish/simulate intimate, affectionate relations. All of his suggestions that you’re ‘stressed’ are pretexts to introduce the idea that he could help you de-stress, with sex.

    1. Yeah, that’s how I read the “stress” references too – orgasms are a really good way to relax, don’tcha know, poor stressed lady! Yuck.

  35. holy chrome, LW, get the heck away from him. His purposefully reading your Twitter feed while not possessing one himself means that he can read everything without consequence. Were he a follower you could block/mute him. But with an open account, it’s open to everyone. I bet you if you set your account to private for awhile he would demand to know why and or sulk about it because that door would be closed to him and he could not read your feed unless you invited him to / accepted his follow request. Try it for a bit, just put up a note to your followers explaining you’re going “under the radar” temporarily and they’ll know what you mean.

    His choosing to read without participating himself basically removes your agency to decide who you want to interact with, because it’s not interaction, just one way action. It’s a control flag, it’s a one-up on you in his mind, a way of counting coup. No potential freelance work is worth putting up with this.

    1. totally off topic but the icon this site has assigned me is pretty much what I feel like right now, screaming tree with flailing arms. Perfect.

  36. In the 90s the word ‘troll’ had a completely different definition than it does today. It was a kind of prankster who posted deliberately inflammatory things in a pretend innocent way as bait to try to get people to respond angrily. If the person was genuinely angry or sincere in what they said then they weren’t called a troll. (The word possibly comes from fishing https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolling_(fishing)). So ‘ignore the trolls’ or ‘don’t feed the trolls’ was pretty inarguable since it pretty much meant ‘don’t fall for the prank’.

    Nowadays the word troll mostly means someone who shouts or is rude or aggressive on the internet. And ignoring them might sometimes make sense, sometimes not, but it’s a completely new question and the old 90s phrase is irrelevent.

    1. Huh, maybe I’ve got it wrong, but I thought that posting remarks in order to deliberately be inflammatory and upset people (as opposed to somebody who’s being aggressive because they really hold the belief they’re espousing, and want to make a point they think is valid) was still the definition of a troll’s behavior. ?

      1. Well, I rarely hear the word troll used that way anymore, personally. At least as often when I hear it used, it’s to describe people who are angry and aggressive or sometimes even harassing or hateful or threatening, not joking or playing pranks behind people’s backs. (Much closer to what used to be called ‘flaming’, basically, although flaming was more morally neutral and didn’t distinguish between if you were a ‘good guy’ defending someone or a ‘bad guy’ attacking). I used to just say to myself ‘well, they’re using the word wrong’, but at some point it became such a large percentage of the time that I had to admit that the language had changed.

        And the 90s ‘trolls’ weren’t usually rude, in my experience. It was more like if someone lurked here a bit and thought it would be funny to make up a completely fake letter about a situation that hit as many red flags as they could and see how over the top and hard to believe they could make it and still have people believe it and answer it, and try to make it sound really innocent and genuine and convincing, just because they thought it would be funny to watch people get angry. The more upset people got (at the troll or even better yet, at each other), the more the prank had succeeded and the more hilarious it was. More like a kid making a prank telephone call to an adult than modern ‘trolling’. It was disrespectful, but never angry, and never bullying, and never something they actually believed. The whole point for the troll was to keep their cool and laugh and watch and giggle while people were getting righteously angry, and to feel powerful that they’d got a bunch of people upset about something. And ignoring them definitely did shut them down, because that was just what they were. It was such a narrow and specific definition.

        But today I most hear people called ‘trolls’ when they’re hostile or bullying, which is almost the opposite.

        1. I admin’d mailing lists back in ye olde 1990s, and in general I agree with the use shift. We had the hostile awful types back then (and they would often be subscribed to a list with multiple sockpuppets), and they caused more trouble than the prankster types by a longshot — but we didn’t really think of them as separate and often tried to deal with them the same way. It didn’t work. Banning an annoying prankster-troll worked fine. Banning a puppeteer-troll…never worked. You always missed a puppet and these people are TERRIBLE human beings and would get up to all kinds of nasty business, including digging up people’s places of work, looking up real estate records to find their homes…sounding like modern trolls now, aren’t they? We hates them, precious. Even today, trolls of the second type will try to hide behind prankster-trolls (the first type): oh hahah it’s just so FUNNY

          Honestly, it makes me wish prankster-trolls were still the dominant type.

    2. I mean, depending on where you are on the internet now, the term “troll” has evolved to also mean those whose opinion is out of sync with the site’s norm/morals/philosophies and will defend that opinion regardless of logic or reason. So “Don’t feed the troll” also means that there is no point in having a discussion with such a person because no insight will be gained or lost.

  37. In my experience, when a dude has told me that I”m too “stressed out” and that I “need to relax,” 100% of the time, no matter the context, what he really meant was “Serrana’s not paying enough attention to me.” So just from reading that alone I thought the guy was creeping on you.

  38. If this guy is acting this entitled (discussing personal matters, invading your personal space — and yes, your hand is part of your personal space) when he’s just trying to get you to do some work for him, how awful is he likely to be when you’re under contract and he feels like he owns your time?

    Run. Away.

    I would never advise subtweeting (“Dodged a bullet today – fired a potential client who seemed to think his attention was payment enough”) but I wouldn’t fault you if you did. And maybe Doug would take the hint. Also, 20% chance of flying pigs in today’s forecast.

      1. not sure its evil, but I really like it too. Seems like a good way to set a boundary with your whole social group, AND make it clear you don't want to talk about feelings in person about this shit. Might cost you the contract, but, sounds like this contact is not gonna materialize, so, yeah. Whatever. Do it.

    1. Very nice to think about, but even though LW doesn’t want to work with Doug he may send other clients – real ones – her way at some point, so it’s best to keep him thinking well of her if possible. It may not be possible, of course, since he doesn’t seem to have been very respectful before, but still, a properly satisfying fuck-you, even a passive-aggressive one, is not practical in this scenario.

    2. On the one hand, it’s a good idea because LW already has a history of calling out asshole behavior on Twitter.
      On the other hand, it’s a bad idea because there’s no telling how Doug may act in retaliation, and doing the safety calculus depends on a bunch of factors, most of which we readers don’t know (including whether or not LW wants to do the safety calculus in the first place)
      On the other other hand, it’s a good idea because Doug may want to respond publicly, letting LW learn (and ban) Mr. “I don’t have a Twitter account”‘s Twitter account.
      On the other other other hand, it’s a bad idea, because LW’d probably get responses from the entire Twitter sealion brigade, and nobody deserves that.

      Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find out where all these extra hands are coming from…

  39. One nice thing about Freelancing is you can be busy at any time, and since your clients aren’t likely to ALL know each other you can just as plausibly be busy with another client – in another time zone, in a country using software they don’t really have here, doing confidential things – as busy doing stuff visible on social media. So… be busy!
    Implement the captain’s script, and shut down any and all “but whyyyy” type responses with “BUSY!”

    Do not let yourself get tempted to explain why. Just one word script and get back to work with that confidential foreign client. Even if that client doesn’t technically exist.

  40. Hi, LW here.
    Thank you so much to the Captain and all the commenters (especially the other freelancers) for the advice.
    Since writing the letter “Doug” informed me that there is funding but it is ” somewhat less than he expected” but he would not tell me exactly how much it was or who it was from (another annoying feature of him) but that I should call his organization’s payroll and get set up as a freelancer so I can “get to work ASAP – but stay chilled!!”
    So bearing in mind the reaction this caused in me (my skin literally itched when I read his mail) and the advice here I have replied saying I can no longer be involved, best wishes etc. I’m proud of myself.
    I feel like a load has been lifted off my back.
    There was a lot of other stuff he did too that I didn’t have room for in the letter that included making references to me keeping up my “diet and exercise” (I am NOT on a diet, and I will not tolerate talk of diets, I mentioned in a convo on Twitter once that I had joined a tennis club.)
    If/when he replies I will say I am busy 🙂

    1. So bearing in mind the reaction this caused in me (my skin literally itched when I read his mail) and the advice here I have replied saying I can no longer be involved, best wishes etc. I’m proud of myself. I feel like a load has been lifted off my back.

      And there you have it – that feeling of relief is all the confirmation you need that you just ended something Double Plus Ungood.

      Insofar as it makes sense coming from an internet stranger who didn’t have to do any of the hard stuff, I’m proud of you, too. 🙂

      1. I know, right? It’s like she wanted him to be one of her clients (at least at first) but he wanted her to be one of his women.

    2. Congratulations, LW. 🙂 Well done. Brace yourself now–chances are that you are about to be invited to a pity party or sent on a guilt trip. There’s a recommendation upthread to read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. It’s a great read, and at least for me, it helped me recognize, articulate, and put the kibosh on situations like this before they even get started. You’ll learn there that it’s almost always in your best interests to cut off communication with people like this, so if he emails you again, no matter how tempting it is or how obligated you feel to respond, it will probably be much better if you don’t. Keep his emails–you might need to build a case of some kind with his company about his behavior–but don’t reply if you can help it at all. De Becker asserts that with people like this, every time you acknowledge them, you buy yourself six more weeks of headache. This dude has already wasted enough of your time.

    3. This was delightful to wake up to read. You will not miss Doug, nor his insufficient money, nor his creepy ways.

    4. Phew! I think you really dodged a bullet here, LW. Good on you for extracting yourself! Cheers!

    5. Updates like these are my favorites. Excellent job LW!

      but it is ” somewhat less than he expected”…“get to work ASAP…”

      Color me completely unsurprised. This has happened to my mother, sans creep factor. Potential clients will string her along with phone calls and meetings and make like they’re becoming friends until they reach the point where they have to decide whether to go forward and start paying her. Then they want a discount because they’re “friends” now. She’s even had someone tell her, “Oh, I thought you were going to do it for free.”

      The problem with trying to pull this on my mom is that she’s quite comfortable calling friends out on their BS. Professional contact? Things stay professional. Oh we’re ‘friends’ now? Let me explain in detail why you are FULL OF CRAP.

      1. I also meant to include that clients tend to want to add all that time they spent twiddling their fingers to the time spent on the actual progress. They think they can expect whatever it is to be finished really quickly because, “We already spent months on this!”.

      2. “Oh, we’re friends? Then I’m afraid I have to cancel this contract. I don’t mix friendship and business.”

    6. Oh, well done you! (Also, eeeuuuuggggghh extra shudder for more creepiness.) Not every client can be an utter joy to work with, but man it feels good to know you can cut off the really bad ones. Good for you!

      1. (Also adding an extra-extra eeeeeuuuggggh over the whole funding thing. I have dealt with those kind of shenanigans before, where there’s always something vague and undefined just around the bend, just you wait! and…ugh. Frustrating isn’t even half the word for it.)

    7. Nice work! I’ve read enough Clients from Hell to twitch at “somewhat less [funding] than expected” and “stay chilled”. How about noooooo.

    8. Congratulations for ridding yourself of a barnacle. Long may he stay absent, and may any future clients be respectful, professional, and polite.

    9. Yay! Congrats LW. You did great and now you know how to handle any future creepers.

    10. My read-through of this comment basically went from “oh of course he’s giving you the runaround on funding” to “oh my god he commented on your diet KILL IT WITH FIRE.”

    11. “Doug” informed me that there is funding but it is ” somewhat less than he expected” but he would not tell me exactly how much it was or who it was from (another annoying feature of him) but that I should call his organization’s payroll and get set up as a freelancer

      HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA (gasp for breath) HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA

      What a loser! And congratulations on joining the Congregation of Full Gospel How About No Church of F*ck You, Pay Me.

  41. My creepster’s senses are tingling like FIYAH, LW. Please, consider heeding CA’s and commenters’ advice and dropping this creephole until and unless he pays you enough to compensate for what he’s costing you.

    1. LW just posted a comment above stating that they indeed dropped the client. Probably happened while you were reading the letter and/or typing the comment.

  42. The issue to me (that is beautifully addressed in the the Captain’s scripts and her POV) is that this is business. This is how you manage business relationships and client relations, man or woman. No money for me, then no time for you unless I decide that it is worth the opportunity cost to interact with you to gain your potential business.

    LW is realizing that the opportunity cost is getting to high because she is losing money by interacting with this joker instead of paying clients. Who cares how he feels? Who cares what he reads on a public forum (creeper). Frankly this isn’t a personal relationship on her side (though I think he’s doing his best to make is so) and the LW feelings aren’t the point except in that they are giving her business information that this may be a client that is a) not a client (see no money=no time also = not a client) and b) they are a valuable tool to assess circumstances to make a business decision on where to put her time into the future.

    LW – don’t waste your own time second guessing your feelings about this, listen to them, calculate the cost and decide your level of interaction from there and move on. The twit(ter) following will take care of itself as I’m guessing you’ll see that once you predicate interaction with you with dollars from him, he’ll fade pretty quick. Also, if you do decide to do business with him, then have a very tight contract, signed in advance with rates and scope of work clearly outlined.

    I hope this makes sense, but trust your instincts or feelings in business, but don’t agonize over them the way you would in a personal relationship.

  43. I am about to relaunch a coaching/tutoring business and am now clutching this entire letter and its associated Threads of Awesome and Pure Gold to my bosom and making a little “eeeeee” sound. I’m a new lifetime member of the Church of Fuck You, Pay Me. I don’t put up with much crap from clients, but this post is so validating that I actually don’t have to put up with /any/.

    Thank you to the Captain, the LW, and the entire CA commentariat for your awesome.

  44. Just wanted to say huzzah to letter writer, and thanks for the inspiration to speak up when a regular creeper (customer of my place of work, someone who has followed me down a dirt road in his car) came in today, specifically referenced the fact that I was the only one in the office, then referred to me as “my girl,” as in “You found it, that’s my girl.” I icily stopped in my tracks halfway to the counter, asked him to call me MyName, then let him huff and puff about politically correct women, then repeated the “That’s fine, my name is MyName.” So yay for small satisfactions.

    1. That would so freak me out, and I don’t freak easily.

      Okay, so he’s followed you down a dirt road in his car. He’s pointed out that you are alone in your workplace. And he’s used language to refer to you that is well beyond what most clueless men do.

      He may not have broken any laws (yet), but he vibes like a predator to me. Please be careful and keep your distance.

      1. Agreed. This is an “immediately call in a colleague if he shows” up person, at very least, and a “Tell your boss about him” person.

  45. Congrats on getting rid, LW!

    As someone who has had stalkers and ex-friends and people who creepily-mention-online-stuff-in-unrelated-afk-contexts who also wants and needs to maintain a large twitter presence and community, I offer you a possible Plan Of Action if “Doug” continues to attempt to insert himself into your life.
    1. Temporarily set your twitter to private – it will appear to non-followers as if you have left twitter.
    2. While private, change your handle and profile image and announce to your lovely followers that you are doing so (with or without giving a reason).
    3. After a few days, set your twitter account back to public. The tweets you posted while private (including the one announcing a change of name) will remain viewable to followers only, searching twitter for your old handle will not find your account, following a link to your old handle’s account page will not lead to your new account. (googling “@oldhandle twitter” has mixed results but trying the link then searching for you on twitter and finding both don’t work should deter most low level stalker types and convince them your account no longer exists).

    This is a thing that I have done with some success.

  46. Not sure if someone else already mentioned this but I have a special “date” spot for meeting people I don’t know well. It’s a place that I am not that emotionally invested in, unlike say my favorite bar or the restaurant with the best nachos ever. This way in case I meet with a date and date turns out to be a total creeper who I suddenly start running into every time I go to said establishment, I can easily never go there again (or for a long time) without feeling resentful.

    Maybe adopting a few places like this for clients as well so that if the client turns out to be a stalker you don’t have to give up your favorite coffee shop because he has suddenly taken up shop there in hopes of “running into” [stalking] you. Also, make sure said place is not right next to your home/gym/doctor etc.

    1. I have a few special “date” spots too. My favorite (an old Hungry Hunter bar) got bulldozed when the restaurant chain closed. When I’m meeting a stranger, I always arrive 15 minutes early, choose a table with a good vantage point, and get my (non alcoholic) beverage. So when my date arrives, he is entering my turf and trying to identify me in the dim light. I always nod and wave him over when I recognize him from his photo. Some of these “get to know you” dates are interesting, others a crashing bore. Whether productive or not, I give everyone an hour of my time, as some of these men fought commute traffic to meet me. After an hour is up, I say that I need to go back to work. We may leave the restaurant together, but I don’t go directly to my car. When I finally see him drive away, I then approach my vehicle. So far, met lots of guys, have yet to have a problem.

    2. I have special date spots too for this purpose. Usually they are coffee shops with adequate seating and plenty of ambient noise, yet are conducive to conversation without having to strain to be heard. I also like a particular bar at a chain restaurant steakhouse, as it is usually empty and has a nice fireplace.

      What I will typically do is arrive maybe 20 minutes early, select a table, get myself a (non-alcoholic) beverage, and wait on my stranger. When he arrives (usually looking lost), I’ll wave him over to my table. Some of these get-to-know-you dates have been interesting, others a crashing bore. Either way, I give everyone an hour of my time, as some of these guys have fought commute traffic to meet me. It just seems like the thing to do.

      Hour over, I announce that I need to get back to work. Sometimes we will walk out together. If that is the case, I will linger to “make a phone call” as I watch him go to his car. Only after he drives away will I approach my own vehicle. That way I’m sure that I won’t be followed, and he doesn’t get to see my license plate (a very distinctive vanity plate). (Having had a date in the past with a police sergeant who promptly ran my plate the next day, I would like to avoid a repeat occurrence, should some other nosy guy have a friend at the DMV).

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