The Gayla Phenomenon


What had happened to that mousy, quiet person I’d always been, that woman so immobilized by fear and insecurity? What had my friend’s challenge done to me?

After 27 years of marriage, my life changed drastically when my husband and I divorced. So many changes and adjustments had to be made, and I was frustrated and depressed. I found myself staying at home, too afraid to venture out in my single state. Feeling very lonely, I spent many weekends crying and feeling sorry for myself.

Eventually, knowing something had to be done, I began attending the temple once a week with the single-adult group in my area. However, although going to the temple was wonderful, I still found myself at the edge of the group, hesitant to get involved, waiting for someone else to take the first step.

Then I met Gayla. One night after our temple activity, we attended a get-together and then left at the same time. We were instantly drawn to each other and knew we were going to be friends. The dictionary defines gala as a festive occasion or celebration. The name suited Gayla perfectly. I could tell she celebrated life.

As we chatted, she asked me if I’d ever attended the singles’ dances.

“Once,” I said, “right after the divorce. And I’ll never go again. It was such a painful and humiliating experience; I’ll never subject myself to that torture again.”

“Come on,” Gayla said. “They’re great fun! I go all the time and have a great time.”

I assured her that while others might have a good time, I knew I couldn’t. Then I tried to change the topic of conversation, but Gayla was determined.

“Why don’t you go with the idea you’re just going to meet people instead of having to dance every dance,” she suggested. “Set a goal of meeting five new people, and then do just that. Men, women—it doesn’t matter. If you do that every time, in just a few weeks you’ll have a larger circle of friends and acquaintances that you can talk to. It won’t be long before you’ll be having as much fun as I do.”

“Baloney!” I said. “It will never happen.”

“If you go four times in a row, you’ll be hooked,” she replied. “I promise you.”

I’d like to say Gayla’s enthusiasm won me over, but actually it was 11:00 P.M. and I had to work the next day. I just wanted to go home and go to sleep, so due to fatigue, I committed to go to the next dance.

I picked her up on Friday night, preferring my own transportation so I could leave when I’d had enough. I figured if she was having so much fun, she could find her own way home with one of her many friends.

She must have known what I intended, because she stuck by my side the entire night. That was a little awkward when I danced, but she managed it. I met five new people, just like I’d promised, and I made it through the dance. As we headed home, she suggested we attend the Saturday night dance as well. Why not? I thought. I’ll get the four dances that I promised over with in two weeks at this rate.

The next night was much easier than I’d anticipated. I felt more at ease smiling and greeting others. During the following week I attended the temple and a fireside. I might as well try to meet five new people there as well, I thought. As I started looking for others to talk to, I found myself much less worried about myself and more concerned about who wasn’t feeling welcomed.

That Friday as I prepared for the dance, I was surprised to find myself excited. I wasn’t afraid at all; I was actually looking forward to going.

Later that night, after another interesting evening of meeting new people and even dancing a few times, I found myself wondering at the change. This is definitely not the me I’ve grown accustomed to during my 40-something years, I observed. I’m actually initiating conversation and, like Gayla, challenging others to get out and attend singles’ functions. What has happened to that mousy, quiet person I’ve always been, that woman so immobilized by fear and insecurity? What is this phenomenon? What has Gayla’s challenge done to me?

It seems a simple thing in retrospect. How could simply talking to five people make such a change in my attitude and outlook? Certainly I still struggled with being single, my children were still a handful, and I still worried about having enough money to pay the bills. None of life’s challenges had disappeared, but all of a sudden I wasn’t alone. I realized that there were people out there who knew what I was going through and were willing to help. I realized that we all need to support and love one another and that whenever I reach out to others, I forget about myself.

Heavenly Father placed us here on earth to grow and help others to grow. Gayla knew that, and I’m learning it. Now when people ask about the “new me,” I explain the change is caused by the “Gayla phenomenon.”

[photo] Photography by Maren Mecham; posed by model

Sharon A. Davis Matthews is a Relief Society teacher and ward single-adult representative in the Mapleton Third Ward, Mapleton Utah Stake.