So this thing happened where I got married a couple of weeks ago…and the only piece of writing I did in the last three months was my wedding vows.
My now-husband and I decided to write our own wedding vows. Originally we were not going to share them until at the ceremony, but I really needed to hear what exactly he was going to promise me in this marriage. So we shared our first draft, then after realizing we had different styles, and that it was important to me that promises were actually being made, we decided we needed a rewrite.
We’d had discussions in the past about not knowing how to pick the right words to express what we hoped for in our lives, what we saw in each other, and the ways in which we would commit to making it work. For my husband, he was okay with saying that it just isn’t possible to describe, so why would we try to talk about in ways that we knew would just make it seem base, common, but I was not. As a wannabe-writer, it’s an important spiritual exercise for me to figure out the words I want to use – it helps me make my life tangible, something I can actually grasp and say “this is real”. Or in this case, “HOLY SHIT THIS IS FUCKING REAL”. It really woke me up to the decision I was making, had been making every day since we started dating, and how I would have to continue to make the decision to commit to us every single day.
There were three things I considered before I started writing my vows (though I had been writing them for the past year, just in snippets on post-it notes, or saved as draft texts, or written in the margins of my work planner):
1. Format and word choice
Consider how you want your commitment to come across to your attendees. Do you want it to be serious and exacting? Do you want it to be poetic and hopeful? Do you want it to sound like the conversations you’ve had with your partner when you’ve talked about what you want in life? Do you want it to reflect the commitments your parents/friends have made, to join the company of married people working towards the same goals with their partners?
We opted for conversational, but also a little serious. We each had written a sort of introduction to try to use words to describe why we would make such promises. Then we made five promises to each other, which we wrote our own four and the fifth we would say “I promise to always love you”. We kept it simply worded, and I read my aloud to make sure it sounded like something I would say – like if someone read it in an email they might say “That sounds so much like her”.
How much time do you have to commit to working this out? There is a reason there are traditional vows, or those provided by a JP – it’s because someone else fought with the words and made them sound pretty and encompassing. But if you want your vows to be a little you sounding, then be prepared to take time. A simple choice for DIY is to rewrite the traditional vows but in your own voice, or pick out the ideas you like and expand on those. It becomes mostly about editing rather than creating.
Or, if you want it to be original, then I’d say start putting words on actual paper that you can find (or save a file on your computer) at least two months ahead. In the month before your wedding you’ll probably only have a week in which you want to write the vows AND have the time to. If you have phrases or quotes you like, or particular words you want to use, then having them stored somewhere you can find makes it much easier. Then it becomes like Mad Libs – just fill in the blanks, or rather, write the sentences around the significant words. You should have a basic idea of what you want to say, and a basic format one month before your wedding. The rest of the time you should spent editing, cleaning up, reading aloud to get proper flow and make sure it’s not too wordy or too clunky. This practice also helps you not have your voice awkwardly crack in front of your guests at the ceremony as you try not to cry. It also means that when/if you do cry and your vision goes a little blurry, you have a fair idea of what comes next, even if you can’t make it out on your cue card**.
3. What are you capable of promising? What do you hope to be capable of?
First, outline what you know you can do. Look at the relationship so far, what have you been through? How did you surprise yourselves with what you were able to work through? What were your favourite memories and what are the ones you want to forget? If you were in the same situation, would you change your reaction? This can help you realize that you’ve been making the commitment day by day, and that there are big events and little fights (or vice versa) that make it all worthwhile. Write about these. Then trim away the situational fat and see what’s left. This is what you are capable of doing, surviving, achieving – and it’s pretty dang amazing! This is where you get practical about your promises.
Second, write about what you hope to be capable of. What have you seen others do? Which are the marriages you look up to? What joys have they seen? What hardships? In your best self, how many / what ways would you be able to commit to this person? This is also what you are capable of doing! Surviving! Achieving! It might be a scrappy fight with yourself, with your partner, to have your best self defend, protect and truly find joy and belonging in the marriage, but if you think it can work, and have an idea of what that actually looks like in practice, then you’re well on your way to making it happen. This is where you get hopeful about your promises.
I won’t tell you what order to do any of these in, since I considered them all at once, then separately, then all at once multiple times over…but if I had to pick, base it on the amount of time you want to commit. I truly believe that you can say whatever you mean, whether you borrow words, or try to make your own up, as long as you find a connection to the words. They need to be hard to say, because it should be a hard thing to do. It should be a little scary, and a little frou-frou, a little heavy and a little hopeful. Most relationships are tumultuous, even the best ones, so provided a balance of both the best and most terrifying in your words, so they accurately reflect what marriages look like. (In my opinion, of course, maybe there are some marriages that are boring and easy and stagnant, but I would never want to know what that would be like).
Mostly, I think they need to be words that you connect to, that sound like something you might say. For me, it was more important to sound like myself than to make the right promises. I will always be the best and worst of myself in the marriage, and I don’t know which are the right promises to make, or what the best of love actually looks like, so how can I promise to be that? I’d rather promise to be myself, and to be together with him, while he continues being himself, than make promises that I don’t truly know what they might mean. And we will change each other, it’s inevitable, but it’s more important that we commit to be side-by-side regardless of the changes that come.
**We read ours off a sheet of paper, I had a set of words I wanted to use, but I also didn’t want to worry about memorizing them. Another reason why having vows that you echo from the officiant works really well. It is a lot of pressure to wear a big fancy dress, stand up in front of your guests and then have to cite from memory what you want to give to your partner. To me, it wasn’t worth being able to say “I know it by heart”…I know my heart, and his mostly, but I don’t know by heart how we got to this day, or what that commitment is going to look like tomorrow, or any day after that. Also, don’t worry. Even if you have spent months and months picking the exact right words, you won’t say them exactly as you wrote them. Don’t stress about it. Just go with the flow of the day, the ceremony, your mood.
All of that being said, I guess I should show you what I actually wrote for my part of the vows. (I haven’t asked the husband if I could share his online, maybe I’ll update this post later).
I marry you today because of so many reasons – but I don’t know enough words to describe them fully. I marry you because you remind me of who I want to be on the days when I forget where I’m going. I marry you because you encourage me to be better than I am, better than I imagine I could ever be. You make me giddy, happy, safe. I never thought I would be the type to marry – but you have made this decision so easy. I can’t imagine not having a life with you now that I’ve seen what we can be. You take me on adventures to new places, and make me try new things that I would never do on my own, would never think I’m capable of doing. With you, it’s like I can begin to truly experience the world outside my own comfort zone. And I know that as we grow up, and grow old together that our love, our marriage, will become something special, completely unique because only with you, could I ever make these promises:
- I promise to keep it weird, to be true to who we are individually, and as a couple. To be a crazy cat lady when you’re a crotchety old man, to scowl at neighborhood children with you.
- I promise to always listen to and respect you – especially when we disagree, remembering that love allows room for all ideas and opinions to be explored.
- I promise to always be open with you, my arms, my thoughts, my heart. That I will be your home no matter where you are.
- My love is steadfast, but not unchanging. As we grow and change over the years and days, so too will my love change and adapt to each new challenge we face. I will have your back in any crises, take on any challenge with you, and enjoy every moment with you. And so I promise to always strive to make our life, our love something better than it was the day before.
- I promise to always love you. I promise to you my love, for your whole life.
(okay, so I didn’t exactly stick to the script with #5, but close enough).