“I’m kind of a restless person.”
Theresa Bailey is driving south along a darkened I-79. Her fair complexion and light yellow hair are rhythmically illuminated by the headlights of northbound traffic. The workday is over, but Theresa has more to accomplish.
“I just always have to be doing something. I like being busy. I say that I don’t, but I do.”
Theresa is one of two co-founders of Morgantown Social Club. When she moved to the city five years ago, she didn’t know anyone. This was to be expected, but what surprised her was that there didn’t seem to be many events or organizations designed to facilitate new friendships. The existing groups had two primary focuses: university events and business networking. But she was in her late 20s, her college days were behind her, and she was more interested in making lasting friendships than business connections.
Theresa is heading south on this particular evening for a Facebook Live appearance at the studio of a wedding videography company in Fairmont. She met the owners in 2017, when she decided to start her own wedding planning service. In less than a year, she has already made the leap to planning a major wedding event, coordinating vendors into a single bridal-shower-themed party in Morgantown. It is the first of its kind.
“I just wanted to do it, so I did. Kind of like Social Club.”
It was at one of the city’s business networking groups that she first met Jenna Lapointe.
“She and I just instantly clicked, and we talked for like an hour. We were kind of like instant best friends. Split a cheese platter and everything.”
That’s when it occurred to her that she was connecting with someone who might help create what the city was lacking. In the middle of their conversation, Theresa asked Jenna a question that would set the creation of Morgantown Social Club in motion.
“Do you like wine?”
Jenna did like wine. And the two shared other values as well.
“I tend to be a busy person,” Jenna says. This has always been true. In high school, Jenna was a four-season athlete and marching band member. She worked with the yearbook club, the French club, the school paper, and so on. In college, she was on the rowing team in both fall and spring with heavy conditioning during the winter. She was also in the psychology club, the campus Christian ministry, and played ultimate frisbee.
She has barely slowed down since. She now works full time as a mental health therapist, while also organizing Morgantown Social Club and a number of outdoor group activities. She has written a super hero thriller novel, and is working on a science fiction book in the vein of Douglas Adam’s work and a contemporary piece that she almost describes as “literary” before catching herself.
“You’re not supposed to use that word to describe your own work,” she says with a laugh. You’re not ‘literary’ unless someone else says so.”
She attends writing clubs to hone her fiction, and a couple of other personal hobbies. Her energy seems boundless, yet balanced.
“I feel like I’m one of those people who is very aware that life is definite, so I want to experience as much of it as I can.”
This awareness of her own mortality that pushes her to experience the world reaches back into her youth, long before she had studied cognitive and behavioral therapy. As a young person, someone once told her that when we die, there is no afterlife, just nothingness. Sometimes she would lie awake in bed at night, contemplating that idea.
“I tried to think about nothing, and just be a void. And at some point, I would always realize that I’m still thinking about being the void, so there has to be some nothingness that’s even more nothing than what I’m capable of, and that would lead to a panic attack.” She laughs a little explaining the memory.
In at least one way, her tendency to live fully is also connected to her counseling. She says that without even realizing it, we often end up living our lives based on values and expectations that have been placed on us – often by people who care about us – rather than living as our genuine selves. Sometimes people experience a crisis of identity as they approach the end of their lives or careers, having never really understood themselves. Jenna plans on avoiding this.
“So I’m constantly trying to figure that out, ‘What do I want?’” Part of sorting through this is trying everything there is to try, making connections with as many people as possible.
Jenna had observed the same problem with Morgantown that Theresa had: it’s hard to make friends after college. It was hard to even find out what was happening. The common observation was probably one reason that Theresa and Jenna got along so well. But there were also ways in which the two were different. Jenna was less talkative at first, and there were slight cultural misunderstandings.
“I kept calling the girls bitches,” Theresa says with a laugh, “and she thought that meant I was mad at her all the time.” (She had, of course, been using the term in an endearing manner.)
Nevertheless, the friendship was cemented, and the two began hosting wine parties for small groups. Most people attending wine club seemed to share their difficulty in finding a community in Morgantown. After a few months, the group was ready to scale up.
Morgantown Social club officially originated on meetup.com. Very few Morgantown residents seemed to use the site, but lots of people who had moved to Morgantown from other cities were familiar with it.
“Without even trying, we actually created a club that was catering to transplants,” Theresa says. “The first event, out the gate, we had over 30 people show up.” She couldn’t believe it.
The club still meets regularly at rotating locations throughout the city. It operates primarily through Facebook now, and people post all sorts of events to the group’s wall.
Theresa and Jenna’s best friends are people they met through Morgantown Social Club. There is no way to track the many interpersonal connections that have changed the lives of its members. Theresa and Jenna both tell of people who have stopped attending the club because they’ve made close friends there, and have splintered off to spend more time together.
They are missed, but Theresa and Jenna accept their absence, if only as an unmistakable sign of their success.