Cohabitation by
(81 Stories)

Prompted By Generation Gap

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The first summer I spent away from home was between my junior and senior years of college, when I stayed in Boston to work in a children’s summer program called SummerThing. The dorms were closed and my girlfriend Patti had her own apartment, so I decided to move in. We recruited another roommate, our friend Stuart, to move in too.

I devised an ingenious way to break the arrangement to my mom. Or so I thought.

This was just at the beginning of unmarried couples starting to live together, and I knew my mom wouldn’t much like the arrangement. She had strong opinions and old-fashioned values, and didn’t hold back from expressing them.

So I devised an ingenious way to break it to her. I made up some letterhead in the name of Peters, Zussman, & Zieger, like we were a law firm, and sent it as an announcement of our partnership and our new address and phone. I figured that, even if she disapproved, my dad would see the humor in it and, being more forward thinking about cohabitation, would talk her down.

Unfortunately, the announcement arrived when Dad was gone on a business trip. And so I received an unpleasant 45-minute phone call—at 1971 long distance rates—in which my mom kept plaintively repeating, “But Johnny—why?” Nothing I said could assuage her hurt and disappointment, but in the end it was my life, not hers.

When I told this story at a family gathering before my mother’s funeral, my younger brother provided the punch line. Five years later, he had brought his girlfriend home from college and announced their engagement. “Why don’t you live together first?” Mom helpfully suggested.

My mother could learn—as long as I, her oldest, shouldered the burden of breaking her in.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.

Tags: Cohabitation
Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Ah, John, sorry for the trials and tribulations from your mother. Do you think she would have had a different reaction if I had accepted your offer and the masthead read Sarason instead of Zieger? Or just the fact that you were living with Patti was too much for her (or living with two women would have put her WAY over the edge?) I don’t think I ever knew that Stu became your third partner and, referring back to “the road not taken”, I sometimes wonder if my life would have been different if I had joined you both that summer; learned to be more independent and not felt so compelled to marry right after college. I never really knew why my dad wouldn’t let me join you both. We would have had a blast!

    Funny how the first child has to blaze the trail for the rest of the clan…get the parents accustomed to pushing the envelope so the younger children have the freedom to do so without the pushback.

    • John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I didn’t recall that you considered joining us, but it makes perfect sense. Interesting that you think you might have developed differently if you had. It wouldn’t have mattered a whit to my mom, but I think my dad would have been quite envious if I had roomed with two women!

  2. Suzy says:

    Great story, with an irresistible punch line. In my family, I was the beneficiary of that phenomenon, getting easy approval for things my sisters had to fight for. Is the Stu Zeiger in your story the same one I know, who lived in Lowell House?

  3. jefroe8271 says:

    Knowing some of the principals in this story make me laugh out loud. You have captured the subtleties of a moment in time. Great story.

  4. Kit says:

    Wonderful story with a wonderful ending! I remember those days well. My boyfriend and I lived together in his college dorm single, but since I had my own address our parents were none the wiser. It was when we got an apartment together after college that our (mostly his actually) parents raised their eyebrows. Luckily they were all too smart to say anything. And three years later we did get married. On a more serious note, I occasionally wonder what it would have been like to feel we had to get married right after college in order to live together. That path never looks good in my mind–we were so not ready!

    • John Zussman says:

      I’m sure my parents were relieved when I moved back to my dorm in the fall, unaware that Patti and I were doing exactly the same as you—in my single and her apartment. But that’s a story for another prompt. Thanks for your kind words.

  5. mwerner says:

    Good story, John. I had forgotten how cohabitation back then was so exotic and pushing the limits.

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