Divorce Runs In My Family

My one divorce had annihilated what little courage I possessed and going through another, I thought, would do me in completely.
06/11/2012 03:15 am ET Updated Aug 10, 2012

My dad had three different families, but it wasn't until I started writing about how my brother and I were affected by his impulse to extend his lineage that I understood how deep divorce ran in the Carr clan. Believe it or not, it wasn't always clear.

As a young divorcee and the sole provider for three toddlers, I wasn't exactly relationship material. So when I met someone who seemed smitten with having a ready-made family (maybe because he was adopted as a baby), I felt desperate to make it work. One night I found him lying naked on my cold gravel driveway because, as he told me, it made him feel alive, and I convinced myself I understood. Things got weirder as our relationship progressed and our ties twisted in ways I won't reveal here. Suffice it to say, in the end, even with his means and desire to take care of us, when he proposed, I thought better of it.

That decision validated a sense -- an intuition -- that I was not like my flesh and blood. Emboldened, I put some distance between destiny and myself by moving us to Paris, France. Before long, I met another expat. He got along with the kids; our relationship thrived. We were soul mates and made beautiful music together, literally and figuratively. When he wanted to get married, I chewed over the possibility for days and, amazingly, sought advice from my family back home. I guess I hadn't been far away long enough.

I called Dad, who was on his third family.

"Oh, dear," he said. "I'm not too good at this marriage game. It sounds like you love each other. What does he do?"

"He's a musician," I said.

"You know how your old pops loves music, sweetheart, but ... you already have three kids."

I tried Mom. She'd been divorced three times and lived alone. Maybe she would tell me what I wanted to hear, which was "Don't worry, darling. You're in Paris! You're not like us. You won't get divorced."

Instead she said, "His name is Joe?"

Mom's last husband, my stepdad, was named Joe. Without going into detail, I'll just say that the day after he disappeared, the FBI came to our home looking for him. Mom wanted me to have a life she hadn't. I was trying. If his name was her only objection, I at least had her on that one.

"Joe's not his real name," I said. "It's Lynn Vivian. He changed it as a joke. Get it? Joe King."

"Terry," she said. I could almost see her head shaking. "I don't know why you call me when you're going to do what you want anyway. Maybe now is a good time to tell you, Robert's getting divorced, again."

Robert was my half-brother. Mom had him with her first husband. Robert's third wife was also his second wife -- he'd already divorced her once. That's right, he was posed to marry and divorce the same person twice, in succession.

I wanted to speak to my full brother. His second marriage, as far as I knew, was solid. I asked Mom for his current phone number, and she clued me in on what was happening with him. He'd met and fallen for another woman and had figured out a way to not get divorced by asking his wife to allow his new woman to move in with them. Unbelievably, she agreed.

After assessing my odds at avoiding another divorce, I decided not to marry Joe King/Lynn Vivian or anyone else, ever. That solution seemed so genius I wondered why no one in my family had thought of it before.

I should confess, my one divorce had annihilated what little courage I possessed and going through another, I thought, would do me in completely. I was different from my family. They were made of sturdier and more resilient relationship stuff than I.

Now, with the privilege of perspective, it's clear that the only way marriage would have worked for me was if I'd been someone else. It certainly hasn't prevented me from embracing another Carr trait: love and loving love.

And, by the way, I'm not laying out my family's divorce history as some kind of badge of freakiness. In fact, I'll wager there are some with an even more diverse and colorful record in that department than ours. If so, please, do tell.