HOLDING MY BREATH
Updated: Feb 4
Recently a girlfriend suggested a sleepover with good food, drinks and the girlfriends flick, “Waiting to Exhale”. Due to Covid concerns the sleepover was nixed, but I decided to watch the movie alone for nostalgia. As I watched the story of these four women and their challenges with the men in their lives unfold, It got me thinking about how it felt twenty-two years ago when I first saw it to compared to where my life is now as I watched it again.
As a high school senior watching this with my two closest friends, I defined what it meant to exhale very differently from now. At that time, I was involved with a guy who had other relationships outside of ours. I think my girlfriends and I even joked around that Robin, the character played by Lela Rochon, was similar to me in her positivity and hope that blinded her to the glaring red flags of the wrong men. At the time I imagined I’d have many opportunities for something better as I entered into adulthood. I was young and naive thinking exhaling and finding those moments would be simple. I also framed my wants with a simple lens. I wanted a guy that was nice to me and ready to be my boyfriend alone. The bar was pretty low.
To a teenage girl waiting to exhale just meant the man isn’t going to cheat on me. The reality is life happened while I made those plans and even though I found that requirement, I have never been able to exhale with a man.
Instead I spent 20 years holding my breath in a perpetual paused state. The fear of the other shoe dropping at any moment, the inability to tell him what I needed, the nerves that my words, tone or body movements would lead to a tipping point in the respite of neutral moments. There was no space or opportunity to exhale when I was precariously holding onto the few moments that felt good while being on guard that it was fleeting.
Holding my breath in fear that my needs are less valued and will be dismissed.
Holding my breath in wondering if the man I am with truly values who I am and what I bring to our dynamic.
Holding my breath in contemplating how to engage in conversations so that my words aren’t misconstrued and my body language not off putting.
Holding my breath waiting to feel affection and physical warmth and connection.
Holding my breath for connection on the issues and goals I value to be seen as important or lead to meaningful conversation.
Holding my breath that the vision I have of a family will be honored and supported as we build our life together as one.
Holding my breath weary that a simple disagreement would lead to days of silence and withholding affection.
Holding my breath for the possibility of threats of divorce or statements to remind me how little I matter in our lives as a wife, mother and person.
Holding my breath wondering if my absence matters or my presence and contributions are acknowledged.
Holding my breath for affirmation and validation that I am intelligent, witty, beautiful and valued.
Holding my breath for a space where I could finally relax and know that I was loved and not constantly on the verge of being abandoned.
Holding my breath for safety, trust and respect.
Now as a separated mother of four I’ve had time to examine what was left in the wake of my tight grip and finally imagine how I can release those feelings and fears as I venture into the possibilities of a new relationship. The goal, the hope, is to stop holding my breath and finally exhale as a grown woman needs to.
Waiting to exhale is about trust and safety. It’s taking a chance to allow myself to release my fears and be open to the possibility of something good. I will be able to just enjoy the moments we have because I am not holding my breath in to make space for someone’s temperament and inconsistencies. Just as before there are no guarantees when I exhale, but the opportunity to finally stop holding my breath is something I yearn to feel the sensation and release of. Waiting to exhale in adulthood means I get to share life with someone who cares about mine. It includes moments where someone else is taking care of me by fixing me a meal, giving me a massage or treating me to dinner or a special day without wondering when the other shoe will drop. It means shared life goals for looking at future possibilities professionally and beyond. It means becoming a part of my children’s lives as another adult to guide them and support me as I navigate the challenges of mothering young men and a daughter. I can exhale because there is more that connects us then separates us and the focus is on connections rather than hanging onto the differences.
Waiting to exhale is knowing there will be effort in small thoughtful gestures. It really is about the quality of the moments not the quantity in their cost or extravagance. With forethought and care, the person will know what to say and do to build that trust and safety and create a space that I can exhale within.
Waiting to exhale is to compliment the strength and individuality I already bring to the table. I am the center of their attention and effort. The man is complementary to my life now, not the central focus. Just as I will not be the center of their world. We can only exhale when we know that what we bring is valuable and worthy beyond the validation of the person. We are solid in our foundation of ourselves and want a partner who shares in the world we have built. I can exhale and know they desire to know my children, engage with my friends, meet my family and support my growth as a professional. I am exhaling for a partner that is committed to growth and open to building. No guarantees, but something worthy of trying for.
Waiting to exhale doesn’t even mean it’s a constant, but the times when I feel that level of comfort and relaxation outweigh the moments where I might question sincerity and commitment. All nestled securely in a foundation of trust that the person I am letting go with values me and genuinely wants me not be harmed and hurt by their actions.
Waiting to exhale is the risk you are willing to take when you meet someone who ignites emotions and connections you may have thought you would never have the opportunity to experience. We can exhale knowing that the chance is worth it for something and someone that’s a rare find and fulfills the pieces absent from relationships in the past.
Waiting to exhale is allowing your body to succumb to the pull of your heart over your logic and trusting your intuition won’t steer you wrong.
Waiting to exhale is real and can happen when we are willing to accept it and lean into the fears, forget the past traumas and reach out towards the possibilities of a future that fulfills us romantically and gives us peace.
I am still waiting, but my own growth has helped me learn how to get closer to that space so that when that time presents itself, I can finally breathe out the past relationships and inhale something worth investing a future into.