DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a singer and performer, young and female. Many times after a show, people -- especially men -- will come up and tell me how much they liked my performance. They also hint that they would like to be "better acquainted" with me.
Sometimes they'll start becoming regular fans, only to stop attending after two or three shows, once it is clear that I will not reciprocate their affections.
This confusion extends not only to fans, but to colleagues. The music world is not like an office, with a clear hierarchy -- success means weaving your way through a web of fellow musicians, engineers, bookers, etc. More than once, I've had someone tell me they were really interested in co-writing with me, booking me, etc., but once we're alone it's clear the motives were otherwise.
How can I be professional and friendly in this world, get things done, be taken seriously as a musician, not alienate fans or colleagues -- but not feel like I'm running a gantlet all the time? It's completely exhausting.
GENTLE READER: Although Miss Manners cannot change your colleagues' behavior, she can help you manage it with one word: homework.
Treat the requests as genuine, while limiting your interactions to the unflinchingly professional. If a colleague offers to co-write, ask him to send you samples of his own work. A would-be agent can be told you would be thrilled to discuss any offers and would like to look over the details before meeting to discuss them. Fans should be added to the mailing list, not the backstage admittance list. Better to be thought clueless than to be bullied.