Dear Annie: A couple of years ago, when I was starting a business, a friend put me in touch with her friend “Margaret,” who had just started her own boutique marketing and public relations firm. I ended up hiring Margaret to help promote my new business. She was going to pitch articles about it to a few local publications (she was a part-time freelance writer), as well as some blogs, and she agreed to write copy for my website.

All in all, I ended up paying her a few thousand dollars yet really had nothing to show for it. She never got any media for the business. She wrote a few hundred words of copy for my site. And she posted about the business on her own blog.

I was disappointed but didn’t want to bother confronting her about it. My business was doing well enough. I just decided I wouldn’t work with her anymore.

Well, recently I got an email from Margaret. She wants to know whether she can use me as a reference for a potential client. I was pretty incredulous that she’d ask me for a reference after doing such a half-baked job for me. I don’t want to be rude, but I really don’t feel comfortable serving as a reference. I’d hate for anyone else to be put in the same situation I was in.

How do I handle this?

— Not Impressed

Dear Not Impressed: You’re already doing her a kindness by not saying yes and telling her would-be client the truth. So don’t worry about being rude. Tell Margaret that you don’t feel comfortable serving as a reference, and leave it at that. She may ask you what she could have done differently to better serve your needs. Be honest. If she ever wants to succeed in marketing, she should value customer feedback.

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Dear Annie: I have never written to a column such as yours, but the letter from “Tormented and Distressed” — a high school senior who wrote in about past sexual abuse and her fear of male medical professionals — changed everything. I am a retired critical care nurse, and what she describes about alleged male nurses is both horrifying and not typical of the wonderful professionals I know.

I am so sorry about what happened to her at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. “Tormented and Distressed” needs to address her fears about male medical professionals, because her own life may depend on it. We never know when a medical emergency will occur involving us. It may be a car crash. It may be an unexpected illness or allergic reaction. It may be nothing but a fall that results in an injury requiring emergency care.

But the last thing one needs in any medical emergency is paranoia about the sex of the person or people caring for you. If you refuse care from a male doctor or nurse, he has to honor this, but your life may be in danger while waiting for a woman to care for you.

I empathize with “Tormented and Distressed.” I was also terrified about having a male medical professional touching me — with my first breast exam, my first pelvic exam, etc. — but she will get past this. Most important, she needs to get past it before putting her own life in danger.

— Been There, Too

Dear Been There, Too: You make a great point. This is yet another reason it’s important for “Tormented and Distressed” to seek help in processing her past abuse. Thank you for sharing your professional insight and personal empathy.

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— A native Californian, Annie Lane writes her Dear Annie advice columns from her home outside New York City, where she lives with her husband, two kids and two dogs. Her debut book, Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie, features favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette. Email your Dear Annie questions to Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Annie Lane

Annie Lane

A native Californian, Annie Lane writes her Dear Annie advice columns from her home outside New York City, where she lives with her husband, two kids and two dogs. Her latest anthology, How Can I Forgive My Cheating Partner?, features favorite columns on marriage, infidelity, communication and reconciliation, and is available as a paperback and e-book. Email your Dear Annie questions to The opinions expressed are her own.