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Who Should Your Emergency Contact Be, According to the Actual Emergency Services?

The one thing I’ve uncovered for certain is that for my girlfriend, it’s definitely not me

On a recent trip to the doctor’s office, I was brutally reminded of where I stand in my girlfriend’s life. The moment — which hit me like a middle-of-the-night spider bite that you don’t feel until the morning — occured when the doctor’s secretary asked her who she’d like to list as her emergency contact. Feeling arrogant about the state of our relationship, I felt my body lunge itself forward as though to say, “Duh, you’re looking at him.”

But as it turned out, she wasn’t looking at him, because Sunny, my girlfriend, emphatically told the woman that she’d like to list her mother as her emergency contact. 

Reader, I was wounded. After all, her mother wasn’t the person accompanying her to this doctor’s appointment — I was. In fact, her mother didn’t even know she had a doctor’s appointment. But of course, inside the pale, sterile walls of a doctor’s office is no place to perform these feelings of inadequacy and scorn. Instead, I begrudgingly smiled when the doctor’s assistant told me that she, too, lists her mother as her emergency contact and not her boyfriend of six years, as though this would help reassure me that I’m not the only sucker not deemed worthy of the in-case-of-emergency badge. 

The episode didn’t end there, though. For nights I was rendered sleepless, wondering what it takes to be an emergency-contact boyfriend. How many times must I show up when asked? How many dinners must I cook? Should I remind her to take a jacket every morning to work in case it gets cold?

Probably. But logistically speaking, what sort of person should you trust to be your emergency contact? 

According to, your emergency contact should, of course, be someone who knows you well. “In some cases, adult children have removed their parents as their emergency contacts because they worry that their parents may not react well to receiving emergency news over the phone from a stranger, or are physically, mentally or emotionally unable to coordinate care for another person,” per their report. Obviously, this wasn’t the case for my girlfriend, who obviously believes her mom is more capable of receiving emergency news than me (she is, in fairness, not wrong).

Additionally, the emergency contact should be someone who is readily available, to which I should also admit that while I am mostly available, Sunny’s mom is retired, and therefore, by definition, more available than I. 

Sophie R., an administrator at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center Emergency Room, tells me that while availability is important, it should also be the person you feel most comfortable with. “For me, it’s my husband,” she says. “But if you don’t have a family member who you think would show up for you no matter what, then you can put a best friend, too.” 

To that end, suggests that your emergency contact should be the person that you won’t feel embarrassed sharing your medical history with. “If you are embarrassed to broach a health subject with someone, they may not be the best emergency contact candidate,” according to their report. “You should feel comfortable sharing your disease history, medications, any addiction issues and the like with the person you choose.” 

I thought I was that person, but maybe I’m not that person yet? Frankly, maybe it’s for the best that Sunny, despite our relationship, didn’t list me as her emergency contact. After all, according to Shara Sand (via Refinery 29), a clinical psychologist, “a mother is the most common choice for millennials.” 

In the same Refinery29 article, Sand says that a good way to test if your romantic partner is ready to be your in-case-of-emergency number is through their actions. “For example, one way to tell if someone is ready to be your emergency contact is when they go to the hospital with you for an outpatient procedure, and then pick you up after without you having to ask them,” she told the women’s site. 

Here, I’ll reiterate that I accompanied Sunny to her appointment and waited in the sad waiting room with sadder magazines while she met with her doctor. But I get it: Listing someone as your emergency contact is a major relationship milestone, not to mention a huge responsibility. It says, you’re the person in this world I can count on more than anyone else. And while I’m fully prepared to be that person for Sunny, I should herein admit that my emergency contact is my mom, too.