What do you call yourselves when you're not married but boyfriend and girlfriend seems off?
November 22, 2011 2:00 PM   Subscribe

We're not married but what do I call what would be my in-laws?

So my SO and I mutually agree that marriage is not what we want. (We see no benefit from it, his company covers non-married couples straight or gay the same as married and the tax law in the US seems to provide no benefit to married, both working, childless couples.) We're together for the long term and I am very close to his family (his aunts introduce themselves as my aunt).

Here's the problem, I feel like society does not fully embrace relationships like ours and as a result I get into a bind when I try to explain things. For instance last night I saw a professor and he asked what I was doing for the holiday weekend. My answer was "I'm heading up north on a 9 hour drive with the in-laws, gonna be crazy" his answer "oh, did you get married over the summer?" Ugh, no.

I don't really want to explain myself and my values to everyone who asks what is going on in my personal life. When people ask when we are going to get married I think its rude to say I don't believe in marriage. I think my attitude towards marriage comes from my parents who got married just to get into a good apartment (but have been together for 35+ years). But unlike them I don't have the fiscal or practical pressure.

I have tried to refer to my SO's relatives as my significant sister or significant mother but people don't seem to get it. I honestly don't want to confuse people or have to explain our (I guess odd) relationship. What words do I use to escape this? Please tell me if this is a ridiculous sense of self-importance and that I am stupid to want to distinguish my relationship as serious compared to a fling. I have to say though that explaining that I am visiting my boyfriend's sister and her boyfriend and their kids is harder than saying in-laws, it also sounds sordid to me when it is really really not (they also are anti-marriage folks but she often has to refer to herself as his wife to get her point across).

p.s. I don't have a problem with introducing anyone to my SO as "hey this is my boyfriend" its the family that gets me confused.
posted by boobjob to Human Relations (51 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I call them my "out-laws". :-)
posted by browse at 2:02 PM on November 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


A couple I know who are in the same boat just refer to each other's parents as "C's mom" and "N's mom" or whatever. Or "my boy/girlfriend's mom".

It's not the most elegant solution, and I agree there should be another term (I kinda like "signifiant mother"), but at least it makes sure that the most people with the least imaginations know what you're talking about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Have you tried "my partner's family"? People tend to take "partner" more (for the lack of a better word) seriously than "boyfriend."
posted by griphus at 2:04 PM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Before we got married, I referred to my husband's family as "the out-laws" - if you want to be straightforward rather than jokey it's pretty easy to say "I'm visiting my boyfriend's family" - no need to get as fine-grained as "his sister and her boyfriend and their kids".
posted by Daily Alice at 2:04 PM on November 22, 2011


My boyfriend of 11 years and I are in pretty much the same situation. We refer to each others' families as "out-laws" instead of "in-laws." Pro: It's mildly amusing. Con: for people who don't immediately get it, there's even more explanations: A) This is why this is funny and B) This is why they're not our in-laws. But mostly people get it.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:04 PM on November 22, 2011


"I'm heading up north on a 9 hour drive with Boyfriend's family, gonna be crazy." I think it's as easy as that. They're Boyfriend's family, and people who truly know you know that they have an important connection with you, at the very least based on the number of years you and Boyfriend have been together. People who don't know you well enough to understand this don't need to be enlightened. You don't need to explain yourself to everyone.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:05 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just say "mother-in-law" and "sister-in-law" anyway. If anyone says, "Hey, when did you get married?" you can say "We didn't, but Jack and I are permanent, and Kate feels like my sister-in-law, so I call her that."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:05 PM on November 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Please tell me if this is a ridiculous sense of self-importance

Yes.

and that I am stupid to want to distinguish my relationship as serious compared to a fling.

No. Just call them your in-laws. (It's what all of the not-married people I know do, regardless of gender combinations or configurations.) Otherwise just call them "John's parents." It will be clear who John is from the context, or the context is so vague as to not matter.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:05 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


We're heading up to/over to my partner's family for the holidays.
posted by edgeways at 2:06 PM on November 22, 2011


Out-laws is so great, I never though of that, wonderful!
posted by boobjob at 2:08 PM on November 22, 2011


How do you identify the SO?

If you would identify him to the particular individual as "Mike," it's "Mike's mom."

If that person doesn't know Mike, so you would use "boyfriend" or "partner," it's "boyfriend's/partner's mom."

I don't see why this is hard. The only problem is posed by going into "significant other's mother," but I think that just reflects on how cumbersome it is to say "significant other" and why I would never do so even if s/he was parentless.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:08 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please tell me if this is a ridiculous sense of self-importance and that I am stupid to want to distinguish my relationship as serious compared to a fling.

Calling them your "in-laws" when you aren't married doesn't make your relationship sound serious; it makes you sound a little....bitter or petty? You don't want to be married, there's nothing wrong with that, but using "in-law" when you aren't married is a hint to a bigger issue that people will pick up on and ask you annoying questions about. Call them "my boyfriend/partner's family".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:09 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just as a note, I use out-laws to describe my ex's family.
posted by Zophi at 2:10 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


We sometimes use "out-laws."
The difference between in-laws and out-laws?
Out-laws are wanted.
posted by Floydd at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


Ok, just to clarify I would never say in-laws to someone who would know what I meant when I said "jack's family". These are acquaintances who I see regularly but do not know my boyfriend or even his name.
posted by boobjob at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Calling them your "in-laws" when you aren't married .... makes you sound a little....bitter or petty...

using "in-law" when you aren't married is a hint to a bigger issue

Wow, there must be geographical differences at play here. That's not how it would come across around these parts at all.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:14 PM on November 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Out-laws is funny. If you don't want to explain, though, I would just say in-laws and if you get the followup question, "Oh, you're married?" you could just respond something like, "Not really, but close enough."
posted by chickenmagazine at 2:15 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I usually refer to them as my partner's parents/partner's family, but I periodically refer to them as my in-laws, even though we're not married. (Additionally, my sister refers to my partner as her brother-in-law, and my nephews refer to him as their uncle.) We've been together for long enough that we all regard each other as family at this point, and "in-law" is a useful shorthand to signify that.

If people get confused (e.g., "oh, did you guys actually get married?"), I find it easy to set them straight -- a cheerful "nope, we just consider each other's family our own now" usually does the trick. If people get offended that I'm using a term that doesn't "belong" to me, I could not possibly care less -- it's their problem, not mine.
posted by scody at 2:15 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Since I sometimes refer to my girlfriend as my "co-conspirator", I nth "out-laws".
posted by kengraham at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2011


I am married, and I never use the word in-laws anyway. It just seems like it means "fake family" when the permanency of our relationship means that they are my real family too. Anyway, I just say "heading out west to stay with [wife's name]'s mom," or "my partner's family." The only time I ever say "mother in law" is when I'm bitching about her. :)
posted by arcticwoman at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


My husband and I have a domestic partnership. I use the terms husband and in-laws.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:19 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


My jokey standby is "parents-in-sin" but it does require a little explanation sometimes. When I'm being more serious (or am telling a story about anything that I'd consider "stereotypical inlaw behavior") then in-laws. People know what I mean.
posted by phoenixy at 2:20 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I say just call them in-laws. My husband and I are not technically married, but are common-law partners and enjoy all the same benefits that a married couple would in the eyes of the law. I call him my husband and I call his family my in-laws. Like ThatCanadianGirl said, every one around here does that and accepts it. It is in no way bitter or petter. It is also not an indication of a bigger problem. (not on our part anyway--perhaps others have a problem with those of us who chose not to be married.)
posted by sadtomato at 2:22 PM on November 22, 2011


I call my future in-laws my in-laws. It's shorthand, whatever. I would never in a million years think that you calling your partner's parents your "in laws" meant you were bitter or petty or in any way upset that they weren't legally your in laws.
posted by lydhre at 2:25 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You don't want to be married, there's nothing wrong with that, but using "in-law" when you aren't married is a hint to a bigger issue that people will pick up on and ask you annoying questions about. Call them "my boyfriend/partner's family".

I agree-- the term in-laws is for the use of married people. Why basically lie to your acquaintances by implying you are married when you've made the informed decision not to be?
posted by devymetal at 2:28 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


My jokey standby is "parents-in-sin" but it does require a little explanation sometimes. When I'm being more serious (or am telling a story about anything that I'd consider "stereotypical inlaw behavior") then in-laws. People know what I mean.

Sin-laws?
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:37 PM on November 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


When people ask when we are going to get married I think its rude to say I don't believe in marriage.

So you're worried about responding to a rude question with an answer they might consider unpleasant? Hmm.

I used to say in-laws even before we married. I don't really get this indignation/dishonesty reaction to that. Society isn't what it was; we now have serious partnered hetero relationships (that don't get you run out of town on a rail) so the idea that you're seriously bound to someone's family without marriage isn't really odd.

But honestly, as much as I adore the phrase "out-laws" it's not like that doesn't motivate more conversation when people comment on it, ask what it means, etc. If the goal is to avoid having The Marriage Conversation I don't know that's gonna do it. "My partner's family" at least doesn't introduce uncertainty.... not that rude people need that to motivate them to ask inappropriate questions.
posted by phearlez at 2:37 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero - "Bitter and petty" also for gay couples who aren't allowed to marry?
posted by crabintheocean at 2:43 PM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sin-laws?
Or in-sins!
posted by phoenixy at 2:43 PM on November 22, 2011


I just used my phrase on another thread today, but I refer to them as my "mother/father in common law".
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:46 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the cute terms like "out-laws," but most random people just plain won't know what you are talking about and that makes it useless to answer questions from those who don't know you that well. Stick to "(guy's name)'s family."
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:47 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also call mine 'out-laws'.

I also use 'partner' - it seems to clear up a lot of confusion.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:50 PM on November 22, 2011


Great answers, keep them coming! For the commenters calling me bitter and petty: first, this is why I am trying to find a better word and second, I wonder if you would have said this if I was a man asking the same question.
posted by boobjob at 3:04 PM on November 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


My partner's parents
My partner's family
posted by mdonley at 3:07 PM on November 22, 2011


I used "putative in-laws" when not saying "Guy's family" or "my extended family"
posted by crush-onastick at 3:11 PM on November 22, 2011


I don't have a problem with introducing anyone to my SO as "hey this is my boyfriend" its the family that gets me confused.

You're fine with the word "boyfriend." So what's wrong with just saying "my boyfriend's family"? I mean, call them "outlaws" if you want, but you'd end up using more verbiage to explain it people, and it sounds a lot more "sordid" than "boyfriend's family," "significant other's family," etc.
posted by John Cohen at 3:12 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have to say though that explaining that I am visiting my boyfriend's sister and her boyfriend and their kids is harder than saying in-laws, it also sounds sordid to me.

I suspect that you're the only one this sounds at all sordid to.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:14 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've used "the in-common-laws" as a jokey type phrase, but I think just like out-laws, it requires explanation for people that don't know you as well.
I think I'll have to adopt "out-laws" now though
posted by twoporedomain at 3:16 PM on November 22, 2011


Good Maude, how I wish I'd thought up the term 'sin-laws' 20+ years ago when I was "living in sin" with my now husband!

THAT would have really jacked 'em.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:39 PM on November 22, 2011


Honestly I see it as the equivalent of this situation-- there doesn't have to be any sexism or rancor involved for it to be confusing:

Person A: "I believe in self-education. I think university degrees/traditional paths of continued education are not for me."

Person B, a new acquaintance who does not know this, making small talk: "I have a master's degree, what about you?"

Person A: "I have a BA."

Person B: "So, where did u go to school?"

Person A (feeling pressed): "What makes you think I went to college?".
posted by devymetal at 3:53 PM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


For what it's worth, I find "the in-laws" as a phrase a little bit off-putting in general; there's something about it that just seems like some kind of dismissive throwback punchline... like it always comes with an implied eyeroll that says "and you know how THAT's gonna be, har har." Same goes for people who say "I'll have to check with The Wife" and the like.

If this issue is mostly coming up with acquaintances who don't even know your boyfriend's name, I'd bet that few of them are actually interested in who the full cast of characters will be during your weekend/holiday outings. They're just making small talk. Saying you're "going to visit family" is fine, or "my boyfriend's/partner's family," if that feels more comfortable. The fact that you're spending time with his family at all should be sufficient to convey that this is not "a fling." But in general I really doubt that anyone cares.
posted by argonauta at 3:54 PM on November 22, 2011


I call them my "common-law in-laws"
posted by dipolemoment at 4:06 PM on November 22, 2011


I did not call you bitter or petty, OP, but I think trying to force all your thoughts on marriage into what you call your boyfriend's family might make people think that, which is why you should avoid getting into conversation where you're on the defensive. It has nothing to do with your gender or your sexual orientation.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:02 PM on November 22, 2011


some people I know use both out-laws and in-laws, with weird rules as to who's who.

Call them 'family' as in "heading up to see family".
posted by titanium_geek at 5:23 PM on November 22, 2011


My partner and I have been together for fifteen years..with people who we both know well, I just say "[her] family", etc. With people I don't know, I use "in-laws", "wife", "brother-in-law", whatever, anything goes. If they ask stupid questions like "did you get married over the summer", I just say "no". Fuck tha police!
posted by dvdgee at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


[Folks, OP is not anon, feel free to take side comments about marriage to MeMail.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:09 PM on November 22, 2011


Jesus wept! If you live with someone they are your common law spouse, aren't they? So they are in-laws. If you live with someone and are over about 21 they are not a boyfriend or girlfriend, they are a partner.

Boy/girl friend sounds pretty infantilising to me. Call the family in law whatever suits your lifestyle but you are perfectly proper in calling them inlaws. And gazillions of Australians do the same.
posted by taff at 6:55 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't like out-laws, if I heard it I would assume you were visting your divorced ex's family. I would just call them family personally, do you really need to specify you aren't related by blood? Most families are pretty complicated so specifying who is an in-law and who is a step-sister versus blood relatives always struck me as as being unnecessarily hirarchical. I am close to my cousin's ex-wife, I call her family and be done with it.
posted by saucysault at 6:56 PM on November 22, 2011


I jokily use "out-laws" too, or "[person]'s folks" if I don't want to get into it, but I don't think saying "in-laws" would be terribly wrong either.

A friend calls her extra family her "bonus mom" (/dad), though, which is kind of cute and doesn't carry the negative connotation that in-law sometimes does.
posted by hattifattener at 7:42 PM on November 22, 2011


Just a data point: in many French-speaking countries, it's very common to use the terms for in-laws for relatives of one's partner (especially as more and more people are cohabiting without getting married). This adds yet another level of confusion for the foreigner, as the forms for "-in-law" are the same as the forms for "step-"...
posted by dhens at 11:07 PM on November 22, 2011


Well, yes, but in French there's no question of "law" in the term translated as "in-laws". It's "belle-famille", "belle-mère", "beau-père", and so forth.

I'm surprised no one else uses what I did with my ex! We were together for 8 years, and when speaking English, I called his family my not-quite-in-laws :) Avoids a lot of misunderstandings while also being cuteish-funny. In French, they were my belle-famille and I still call my ex-mother-not-quite-in-law my belle-mère. (We always got along very well.)
posted by fraula at 12:41 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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