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aug14 finding a friend

August 14, 1998|By KATE COLEMAN

Men and women are different. That's not news.

But did you know that friendship is different for men and women?

It is, according to Marilou Barratt, a therapist in private practice in Hagerstown.

"Relationships are so important for women," Barratt says. Women get a sense of being connected in their friendships. They need to be able to share and to be understood, she believes.

Men can get a sense of connection from doing tasks together, Barratt says.

So how do women find friends? What do you do if you're a single woman who moves to a new town with your job? Or what if your marriage has ended and not all of the friends who were "our" friends remain "your" friends? What if you just want to broaden your horizons with some new people?

Linda Parrish, 41, came to work in Hagerstown six years ago from Hunt Valley, Md., not far from Baltimore. She had grown up in Aberdeen, Md., a small town, so Hagerstown's size didn't scare her. But Parrish says the area isn't known for being a professional community, so finding friends with similar lifestyles and interests has been a challenge.

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Parrish is happy here and it must show. The human resources department at Citicorp Credit Services Inc. where she works often refers job candidates to her for advice on living here. One of the first things she tells them is to subscribe to a local newspaper. It's a source of information on events, activities and community groups, according to Parrish.

She says she isn't shy about doing things. To find friends, "You join things," Parrish says.

Barratt also recommends this approach. Especially if you are shy, finding a group that enjoys doing something you enjoy is a good way to find friends. Take a quilting or computer class; join a hiking club. The common interest provides a ready-made topic of conversation. Then maybe you can drive together to that class or hike and start to get to know each other.

One organization Parrish contacted when she first arrived was Newcomers Unlimited, a nonprofit social club.

Maureen Ferguson also discovered Newcomers when she came to Hagerstown with her husband and sons nearly 10 years ago.

"I don't know what I would have done without them," she says.

Many of the women she met then still are friends.

The group has monthly luncheon meetings at local restaurants with topics focusing on women's issues and interests. There are several activity groups, including book discussion, bridge and cooking. Many of the members are married and are involved in some of the activities as couples.

Parrish still occasionally attends the lunch meetings, but has made friends in other ways.

She joined a church and served on its board. She volunteered with Community Action Council and Habitat for Humanity and served on its board.

Meeting a man for a dating relationship isn't a priority for Parrish now, and she says she has both male and female friends. One thing she has learned is that it's sometimes difficult for a single woman to be accepted in a group of couples.

Parrish has enjoyed going on vacation alone by joining up with a group on bicycling trips booked through a travel company. She's kept in touch with people she met a couple of years ago.

In setting out to make friends, know yourself, know what you are comfortable with, Barratt advises. Don't go to a bar to meet people if a bar is the last place in the world you want to be, she says.

Be patient in building a friendship, Barratt counsels.

Don't jump to the wrong conclusion if your new friend isn't immediately or always available.

"One of the most difficult things about making friends is finding the time to do things," Barratt says.

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