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The SparkNotes Blog

Homework help made hilarious.

Auntie SparkNotes: What Should I Call My Boyfriend’s Parents?

Dear Auntie,
Okay, so this is kind of a weird one. I’ve been dating this guy, let’s call him Paul, for seven years. We’re a statistical anomaly—high school sweethearts who are still together. He’s wonderful and supportive and I can totally see myself spending the rest of my life with him. There’s one problem, though.

I have no idea what I’m supposed to call Paul’s parents.

In all the time between first meeting them and now, I somehow never ended up asking what I should call them. I’ve been able to make it this far on “Hey”s and tapping their shoulders when I want to get their attention, but I don’t know how much longer I can pull that off.

I know what you’re thinking: “Just put on your big-girl pants and ask like a motherfranking adult.” And I probably should. There are just two problems. First off, I’m a very awkward person. Not in a cute way, in a social anxiety way. And while I’m a lot better than I used to be, and I’m comfortable enough around Paul that it’s not as much of an issue as it could be, the idea of asking “So now that I’m probably gonna be your daughter-in-law, what should I call you?” is pretty intimidating. Which brings me to the second issue: Paul’s mother.

Paul’s mother is, to put it nicely, kind of abrasive. She’s nice to me, but when she’s interacting with her family, a lot of the time it ends up in yelling. Like, a lot of yelling. And it seems like her whole family is like that. I haven’t gotten into an argument of that caliber yet, but I feel like it’s bound to happen someday, and I would prefer to hold it off until Paul isn’t living under her roof. (I don’t doubt my ability to hold my own in such an argument—I’m probably louder than her when I get really angry—but I don’t lose my temper at the drop of a hat like she does). I’m afraid that asking what to call her will cause her to think less enough of me that I’d be bringing on a fight between us much sooner than I would like.

Right now I have two plans: either I’ll just casually start calling them by their first names and see if they say anything (I tried this successfully with his aunt), or I’ll wait until Paul and I get married, then bring it up half-jokingly. Do you think either of those would work, or do you have a better idea? Am I thinking too hard about this?

At the risk of stating the obvious, Sparkler: yes. Yes, you certainly are. And we’re going to talk about that! Y’know, just as soon as Auntie SparkNotes recovers from the part of your letter where you disclosed that you are advance-planning a screaming match (!) with your boyfriend’s mother (!!!) because you for some reason consider this a natural outcome of politely asking her what she’d like to be called [ten thousand exclamation points followed by the sound of a body hitting the floor].

Because wow, dude. Not only are you overthinking this as much as a thing can be overthunk, but you’re taking this whole scenario to an incredibly weird and unhealthy place. Just because you’re (possibly) marrying into a family of shouters, that doesn’t mean you have to become one yourself—let alone start plotting the verbal equivalent of a mud-wrestling match with your future mother-in-law as though it’s something you can’t avoid. If she starts yelling at you (and psst, this is not something you should be thinking of as inevitable!), you do not have to respond in kind. A simple, “Martha, please don’t yell at me,” will convince any decent person to dial down the decibel level—and if she isn’t the decent type, then you can politely excuse yourself when she persists (and leave your guy to lay down some ground rules with his mother vis-a-vis how he expects her to treat you, which is his job, after all).

But again, this is all wildly premature—not to mention vastly unlikely. You realize that, right? How balls-out bizarre it would be for a courteous “I keep meaning to ask, do you prefer ‘Martha’ or ‘Mrs. McGillicuddy’?” to make any normal, non-lunatic human being think less of you? It’s so weird that it’s practically unfathomable. Why would that happen? (Or put another way: Do you really think so little of your boyfriend’s mom that you honestly believe she’d react that way?)

And here’s the thing: after all that, you also don’t even have to ask. You don’t! You’re an adult! And adults, even when they are young adults, call each other by their first names as a matter of course—which is why your plan to just start doing that, sans questions or fanfare, is a perfectly good one. So if the idea of asking stresses you out to the point of actual madness, then skip it. Unless you have a reason to be unsure, it’s not necessary. And if you do have a reason—for instance, that you forgot to mention the part where your boyfriend’s parents are actual royalty and require a complicated series of honorifics when addressed—then you could always circumvent the awkwardness by asking him.

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