DIVORCE
11/04/2014 11:06 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What It's Like To Walk Away From A Marriage At 44

"This Is Divorce At..." is a HuffPost Divorce series delving into divorce at every stage of life. Want to share your experience of divorcing at a certain age? Email us at divorce@huffingtonpost.com or tweet @HuffPost Divorce.

At 27, our reader Jennifer Ponte Canning settled down and married the man she'd been dating since she was 17.

At 44, she she ended the marriage after realizing that, in some way, she had settled for a life she wasn't quite ready to live 17 years earlier.

Below, Jennifer tells us what it's been like splitting up at mid-life -- and why she thinks her two sons ultimately benefit from the divorce. (The long and short of it? Happy mom, happy kids.)

I met my husband at age 17 and we stayed together through four long years at colleges more than a thousand miles apart. Looking back now, I realize we were too young for such commitment. It severely restricted our ability to explore and map out who we were at college (not to mention, explore with new romantic partners). Still, we remained committed to each and at 27, we walked down the aisle. We went on to have two children.

Now, 17 years after our wedding and 26 years after our first date, my ex and I are both 44 years old and divorced. Let me tell you: Disentangling two lives that had been so firmly knotted for so long has been an arduous process, one which left me dangling helplessly for a time. But in the end, I am blissfully free of things I had thought would always weigh me down. I feel light.

For the first time ever, I am solely in charge of my life's pathway, with none of the flak from others I had come to expect throughout my life. My household is peaceful. My children feel it; when mom is relaxed, they are relaxed. Having grown up in an anxious, volatile household, I know all too well the damage it does -- there was no safe haven, no true feeling of home. Now, finally, we've created that relatively stress-free sanctum.

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(Jennifer and one of her sons)

And I'm finding experiencing some of the growth and self-exploration I missed out in my college years: Years of therapy and maturation have led me to a healthy knowledge of myself as an individual, to an understanding of who I have always been beneath the expectations of others. Now I feel I’ve been able to rewind my life, to have a second go at it, the right way, at the right moment.

Yes, you read that right; 44 is entirely the right moment for this self-exploration. Sure, sometimes I lament my lost youth. Sometimes I feel the pressure of time. But mostly, I am so very happy to know myself, to love myself, and to be able to share the truest parts of myself with my two sons and my circle of good friends. I wouldn’t change the past if I could, because I might not have ended up in this particular place. What's more, I wouldn’t have my precious boys, whose existence is my reward for a long journey.

I believe the greatest gift I can give my children is to show them how to be happy -- to teach them to recognize their own strengths and flaws, to accept those, and to commit only to someone who is willing to do the same in equal measure. Someone whose presence in their lives lifts them up, rather than weighing them down. That, ultimately, is my hope for myself as well. I don’t feel it is too late for me. On the contrary, I feel I am more equipped than ever to be successful in all of my endeavors, whether they be romantic, professional or recreational.

Divorce frees you to pursue endeavors you may have shied away from during marriage. Never athletic, I’ve recently begun practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. I’m often taken aback by how much I enjoy these activities that no one would ever have expected from me. Late in my marriage, I ran two 5K races and biked a total of 60 miles for charity. Admittedly, both of those things were painful, but I'm still a big jiu-jitsu fan. I've undertaken all of these things because I wanted to see whether I could. And I could -- absolutely. My husband at the time was not at all impressed, but I felt that a door had been opened for me by trying these things. Now, I’ve walked through that door and proved him wrong.

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