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Let’s stop pretending being married at 40 is the only way to be happy

When actress Paula Patton split from her husband of nine years, singer-songwriter Robin Thicke, the press had a field day with the rumors of Thicke’s infidelities. The other women were always younger, and invariably Patton was portrayed as the victim — the poor woman approaching 40 who faces the rest of her life as a sad, lonely soul simply because her marriage has come to an end.

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Ha! How to prove people wrong, Patton. The Warcraft star appeared on Live with Kelly last week, and she’s never seemed — or looked — better. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s been made out to be a big deal, because how can a single woman over 40 possibly be happy?

We actually know very little about what led to Patton and Thicke’s split (it’s probably safe to assume the cheating allegations didn’t help). What we do know is that they were high school sweethearts, were married long before either of them became famous, and they have a son, Julian (now 6). So take away all the Hollywood bullshit, and you have a divorced couple trying to co-parent successfully and a 40-year-old woman having to prove to the world that she really doesn’t need a pity party.

Yes, Patton is a well-known actress with a famous ex-husband, but she’s also a woman who might possibly have realized that being a 40-year-old single mom isn’t just different from what she was before — it can be even better.

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I was younger than Patton when I split from my husband, but I’m now pushing 40, still single, and I’ve never been in a better place.

Of course it’s tough to go through a breakup. When kids are involved, it’s even harder. But whatever the circumstances, it really is an opportunity to live a happier life. Like Patton says, you have to work at it. You have to find strength and have faith that things will work out. That goes for all women post-divorce, but for older women, this massive life change really can be something of a renaissance. For me it brought about a complete reassessment of my priorities. I went from being a wife in a two-income family to a single mother of two young kids, with no home, no job security and no clue how the next six months — let alone the rest of my life — would unfold.

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I can’t deny that it was a difficult time. But all the sleepless nights and entire weeks and months of self-doubt and crises of confidence and tears — so many tears — have changed me for the better. When I eventually crawled out from under the rock, ready to get on with living, I had a determination to live — really live, not just exist day to day and be on a constant countdown to the weekend. I’ve set myself challenges and achieved them. I’ve discovered new passions and reignited old ones. I’ve made new friends, some of whom I know are in it for the long haul. I’ve watched my children grow and adapt and flourish in our new co-parenting setup. I’ve relished the freedom of making my own decisions and learned to appreciate what I already have in my life before I go looking for somebody else.

Working through a divorce or the breakdown of a long-term relationship is a hugely personal journey. But you could do worse than pay heed to Paula Patton. “What I’m striving for is to have more joy, play, have fun with this life,” she said. “Growing older is a good thing in that way, right? Keep on trucking. You have to find the place where it gets comfortable and easier.”

For me, the best part of being single as I catch a glimpse of my 40th birthday around the corner is not knowing what’s coming alongside it. Over the last four years, I’ve realized that my happiness doesn’t come from my relationship. Actually, that’s not quite true. It does come from a relationship, but not with someone else. My relationship with myself — one that has been pushed to the limits and nearly pushed me over the edge more than once over the years — is really the only one that matters.

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