Carpenter released her first solo record, “Looking for Love“/ “I‘ll Be Yours“in 1967 on Osborn‘s Magic Lamp label. Only 500 copies were pressed, and the label folded shortly afterwards. In 1979, while Richard took a year off to treat his addiction, Karen decided to make a solo album with producer Phil Ramone. The sessions produced music that was different from the usual Carpenters material, tending more towards disco and up-tempo numbers, with more mature lyrics and taking full advantage of Karen‘s upper vocal register. The album met with atepid response from Richard and A&M executives in early 1980. The album was shelved by A & M Records co-owner Herb Alpert, in spite of attempts by producer Quincy Jones to convince him to release the solo record after a remix. A&M subsequently charged Carpenter $400,000 to cover the cost of recording her unreleased album, to be paid out of the duo‘s future royalties. A portion of the solo album was commercially released in 1989, when some of its tracks (as remixed by Richard) were included on the album Lovelines, the final album of previously unreleased material from the Carpenters. In 1996, the complete solo album, titled Karen Carpenter, was finally released.
Carpenter had a complicated relationship with her parents. They had hoped that Richard‘s musical talents would be recognized and that he would enter the music business, but were not prepared for Karen‘s success. She continued to live with them until 1974. In 1976, Carpenter bought two Century City apartments which she combined into one; the doorbell chimed the opening notes of “We‘ve Only Just Begun“. She collected Disney memorabilia and liked to play softball and baseball. Growing up, she had played baseball with other children on the street, and was picked before her brother for games. She studied baseball statistics carefully and became a fan of the New York Yankees. In the early 1970s she would become the pitcher on a celebrity all-star softball team. Petula Clark, Olivia Newton-John and Dionne Warwick were her close friends. While she was enjoying success as a woman drummer in what was primarily an all-male occupation, Carpenter was not supportive of the Women‘s liberation movement, saying she believed a wife should cook for her husband and that when married, this was what she planned to do. In early interviews, Carpenter showed no interest in marriage or dating, believing that a relationship would not survive constant touring, adding “as long as we‘re on the road most of the time, I will never marry“. In 1976, she said the music business made it hard to meet people and that she refused to just marry someone for the sake of it. Carpenter admitted to Olivia Newton-John that she longed for a happy marriage and family. She later dated several notable men, including Mike Curb, Tony Danza, Terry Ellis, Mark Harmon, Steve Martin and Alan Osmond. After a whirlwind romance, she married real-estate developer Thomas James Burris on August 31, 1980, in the Crystal Room of The Beverly Hills Hotel. Burris, divorced with an 18-year-old son, was nine years her senior. A new song she performed at the ceremony, “Because We Are in Love“, was released in 1981. The couple settled in Newport Beach. Carpenter desperately wanted children, but Burris had undergone a vasectomy and refused to get an operation to reverse it. Their marriage did not survive this disagreement, and ended after 14 months. Burris was living beyond his means, borrowing up to $50,000 (the equivalent of $138,000 in 2018) at a time from his wife, to the point where reportedly she had only stocks and bonds left. Carpenter‘s friends also indicated he was abusive towards her, often being impatient; they stated she remained fearful when he would occasionally lose his temper. Karen Kamon, a close friend, recounted an incident in which she and Carpenter went to their normal hangout, Hamburger Hamlet, and Carpenter appeared to be distant emotionally, sitting not at their regular table but in the dark, wearing large dark sunglasses, unable to eat and crying. According to Kamon, the marriage was “the straw that broke the camel‘s back. It was absolutely the worst thing that could have ever happened to her“. In September 1981, Carpenter revised her will and left her marital home and its contents to Burris, but left everything else to her brother and parents, including her fortune estimated at 5 to 10 million dollars (between $14,000,000 and$28,000,000 in 2018). Two months later, following an argument after a family dinner in a restaurant, Carpenter and Burris broke up. Carpenter filed for divorce on October 28, 1982, while she was in Lenox Hill Hospital.