Who is Your Emergency Contact?


As far as big life decisions go, choosing one’s emergency contact shouldn’t really register on the emotional scale. It’s one little line on a form that will mostly likely never be used. The deciding factors — like closest of kin, or literal, geographical closest of kin — are quite sterile. But because I’m a pile of feelings in a trench coat, I find the experience strangely confronting. I’m not totally sure who HR should call if I choke on a cracker at work, for instance, nor who needs to know if I fall off a zip-line in Costa Rica. I feel ill-equipped to answer the question!

Remember that episode of Sex and the City where Miranda started freaking out that she’d die alone in her apartment and no one would come home to find her? Remember when she decides to make Carrie her emergency contact instead of her out-of-state parents? It’s a real moment. One that ultimately serves as a supporting data point for the show’s thesis, which is that friends can be family, or maybe even your one true love.

I’ve never put a friend on the E.C. line, personally, but I like the idea of it. I’ve done my mom, my sister, my ex-boyfriend. Curiously, I’ve never put my dad or brother. What does this say about the women in my life? Also, what does it say that I selected some boyfriends but not others? Or that I ever listed them at all? For the record, I’m pretty sure my emergency contact has never ever been used. Except maybe that one time I got dizzy in 8th grade P.E.

Maybe the pre-emptive choice says something anyway. When emergency contacts came up the other day in the office, I couldn’t believe how many people had a story to tell. Everyone has very personal reason behind their choice and it struck me as charming, if a little dark.

Who’s youemergency contact? Why?

Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

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  • Choosing my emergency contact is been such a stressful experience! Yeah, cause I’m THAT problematic. I mean, my dad never EVER (EVER) answer the phone, my best friend has it on silent all the freaking time, another friend would answer straight away, but is she the first person I want to contact in case of emergency? It’s been hard, I swear. I made an honest looong thought about friendship and all of that. I ended up adding more than one, but the first is my mom, I mean, she doesn’t drive, but she has ALL the contacts of my closest friends and somehow she’d manage to come and help me, right?

  • Kate

    I totally agree that friends are family. However, in Trauma and disaster training they tell you to pick someone far away because during a crisis, phones would either be cut off or impossible to call locally. Just a thought.

  • ihaveacooch

    mom, almost always.

  • Dale Chong

    After I got hit by a car on my bike, I went through a pre-quarter-life crisis, where I wanted as many ICE contacts as possible to cover my bases.

    of course, my parents are my emergency contacts (mom over dad, she’s more reliable). However, given that they’re out of state, I turned to my best friend. When I informed him of this, he said I have more reliable friends (he never answers his phone). I turned to my other best friend, who loves me dearly and we gchat every day but oftentimes she’s busy. She told me to go with the friend I hang out with on a weekly basis—given, he probably should have been my first choice…

    end all be all, I have five emergency contacts.

  • Haley I was JUST thinking about this the other day on a run. Apparently endorphins make me morbid. Or emotional. Or both.

    Mine has always been my mom, but on this particular day I realized my backup (since my mom lives an hour and a half away) would be a friend. And it struck me how swiftly I knew which friend it would be. She’s not necessarily my *best* friend, but without a shadow of a doubt I knew if I ever needed help she’d drop everything and be there. And I’d do the same for her. Kind of a nice thing to realize one sunny morning on a trail along the river.

    • elpug

      Amen for running epiphanies

  • Helen

    Has been and always will be my pops. He’s the only person who a) would drop everything and b) always answers his phone. A vital combo!

  • My mom before I moved out because she worked at the school and had more flexible hours. My boyfriend (who I live with) now that I’m three states away.

  • Adrianna

    My boyfriend of five years, and I always feel juvenile writing “boyfriend” on the “relationship” line.

    I live in NYC, and my mother lives in Pennsylvania. I’ve also learned that her anxiety does not lend itself to an emergency. I wouldn’t have told her that I got hit by a car if it weren’t for the fact that I was supposed to visit her the next day.

    • doublecurl

      big advocate for “partner” when boyfriend starts to feel a little reductive!

      • Adrianna

        I’ve thought of that! I think it’ll be an accurate label once we live together

      • Natty

        same. the world needs a new word for boyfriend.

  • Elizabeth Tamkin

    100% my superhero (and overprotective) dad because I swear he could get to me in 5 minutes no matter where in the world he is/I am.

    • Rebecca B


  • Abby

    Used to my mom, now it’s my husband.

  • AYP

    i have an interesting story about this.

    I had a nervous breakdown my sophomore year of college (a lot of family issues) and was sent to the emergency room by college safety and security. I spent 2 and a half hours there until I was declared safe to leave, but they needed an emergency contact to call to make sure i was going to be ok through the night. I don’t have any family stateside so I gave them my best friend’s number, who happens to be a guy. He stayed the night to make sure I was ok. The next morning, he decided to tell me that he liked me and wanted to have a relationship with me. I obviously was totally blindsided, and woozy from the drugs they had given me the night before. But even drugged up me knew that this was the start to a potentially terrible, codependent relationship. Things happened, shit happened, and now we’re no longer speaking to each other.

    Emergency contacts will always have a special, sad part in my heart. He was my emergency contact, and to be honest, those two words will never give me the feeling of being cared for, ever again.

    • Lil

      Aw I’m so sorry this happened to you! I went through a similar experience; mental breakdown, except I had feelings for my best friend and he ended up distancing himself from me (to be fair we both knew how dependent I’d end up being on him).

  • Meg S

    I have my dad as my E.C. I’ll switch it to my Mom when the time comes. I would 100% put my best friend, but she can’t take her cell phone to work. I guess I would put my sister, though she lives 2 hours away.

  • cryptdang

    Hah! I too have weirdly complicated feelings about emergency contacts. Depending on the number of lines provided, I go back and forth between my Mom, stepdad, and now-fiancé. I feel bad not putting him every time, but my parents are both nurses (albeit living an 8 hr drive away), so it somehow seems more comforting if they are making potentially life-and-death decisions. The first time I had to take a cat to the vet for a serious health issue without my Mom’s medical expertise at my side I felt out of my depth. And I imagine my fiancé might feel the same about making decisions for me, if that makes sense!

  • Court E. Thompson

    The first time my boyfriend drunkenly proposed to me, I made him my EC. Before that it was my mom, even when I lived across the country from her.

    • doublecurl

      first time?!

      • Court E. Thompson

        Yeah he gets really committal when drunk.

        He did it about three times until I told him that he couldn’t do it again until he had something shiny to go with it. (Not that one needs a ring but it shut him up). Full disclosure – we have talked marriage, but we aren’t there yet. We are happily in boyfriend/girlfriend cohabitation love.

  • My emergency contact is my boyfriend. We’ve lived together for years and he’s the closest thing to family I have within less than an hour’s drive. It never felt like a big deal to me to put him down, but recently he got a job whose benefits include a life insurance policy, and when he named me as his beneficiary I kind of freaked out. Not only confronting the idea of his mortality (we’re so young!) but it also just feels so much more /serious/ than an emergency contact somehow!

    • Adrianna

      That’s intense. I always consider my boyfriend my emergency contact and the most important person in my life, but I still put my mother down when I received the life insurance policy benefit at work. Since we’re not married, in my head I image that my mother would be the one arranging my funeral and burial if I were to die.

  • My dog. Obviously. Disclosure: my roommate’s dog.

  • Kelly

    Mine is currently my mum, but when I lived abroad it was either my boyfriend of a friend. My mum is just so bad at answering her phone, so I always reconsider writing her name, but I’ll leave it for now.

  • tiabarbara

    My EC is always my mum. I still live at home so that’s a no brainer. But I had her listed as my EC even when I was living in the US, which seems a little ridiculous in hindsight …

  • Emily

    Mine’s my brother bc he lives the closest to me and is a good filter to make sure that only the most important of “emergencies” reach my mom and dad, who would just be stuck in Iowa stressing themselves out if something kind of bad but not horrible happened to me.

  • marcela spicuzza

    I was surprised to learn that my ex-boyfriend put me as his emergency contact. We started dating when he returned from being stationed in North Carolina. He was not close with his family (rarely even talked to them) and had lost contact with most of his friends. We broke up after only about 6 months of dating (was a really bad, emotional break-up), and I received a call from his doctor one day reminding him of his appointment. I texted him to let him know. Was the weirdest feeling. It made both sad and satisfied.