It’s hard to plan an original wedding.
No matter how obscure your venue, it’s likely others have been married there before. Whichever color palette you choose, your guests have probably seen something similar. And through the years, many brides probably have walked down the aisle to your special, secret song. There’s even a chance that on your wedding day, another couple in Somewhere, Kentucky, is getting married in the same shoes, cutting the same flavor cake, dancing to the same tune.
Weddings, for all we make of them, are predictable events. And who’s to say that isn’t wonderful? When two people commit to marriage, they take part in a ritual that other couples have undertaken since before recorded history. Whatever our differences, the loveliest traditions remain the same, and shouldn’t we celebrate that?
Even so, you might say, the story of how you and your partner fell in love is the only one of its kind, ever. It’s unique. No other couple will ever tell it. If this is how you feel, then consider writing your own wedding vows. It’ll bring your original voices into the wedding, and unlike flowers or songs, the vows you write are yours alone. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Don’t just write promises. Write a love letter. Start from the beginning. How did you meet? What made you fall in love? Wedding officiant Deborah Belaus says, “A lot of couples went through a tough time together, and that’s when they really knew.” Some couples read bits from their earliest love letters, birthday cards and even text messages.
If a full history feels too open-ended, officiant Cindy Zito suggests getting it down in bullet points: What are the top five things you love about this person? Think broad. Look over the past, present and future of this partnership. Which special things have carried the two of you through? What memories get your heart racing? Jot it down.
2. Humor’s good, as long as it’s your own. “I promise to make you an espresso first thing in the morning,” says one groom to his bride, a morning grouch. “I promise to overdraft the checking account,” she quips back. “I promise to complain about the kitty litter.”
“Humor’s good,” says Reverend Darlene Shlesinger, “but at the end of the day, don’t sound like anybody but yourself.” Stick to the serious vows if you’re not usually a jokester. Many couples decide on a combination of the silly and the sincere, saving the most heartfelt vows for last.
3. Steal from any source that speaks to you. Google is your best friend, but swimming through pages and pages of quotations can be exhausting.
Before you dive in, look to your own past. Is there a religious text you want to incorporate? Or a passage from Winnie the Pooh? Can you quote a movie that you and your partner saw on a first date?
From there, move on to poems, TV shows and even other wedding vows for inspiration. Remember, there’s no shame in copying the better-spoken, as long as the words feel true to you.
4. Write them separately for a sweeter first moment. Why do ministers advise against writing your vows together? “There’s that element of surprise,” says Zito, of watching the two newlyweds read their vows to each other at the wedding.
Belaus agrees. Often, she says, the best part of the wedding is when the partners turn to each other and reveal their vows for the first time.
If you’re worried your vows might be longer than your partner’s, or mismatched in tone, then ask a third party to read both beforehand. Most officiants will make sure the vows match and suggest revisions if they’re needed.
5. Recite, repeat or try something different. In traditional repeat-after-me ceremonies, the minister reads the vows and the newlyweds repeat them, sentence by sentence. But you can also recite your vows (if you dare), or seal them in separate envelopes and read them aloud at the altar.
Alternative vow ceremonies abound. In the Celtic hand-fasting ceremony, couples hold hands as they recite promises. After each promise, a close friend loops a ribbon around the joined hands, symbolizing a physical binding along with the spiritual one.
6. Hold on to your vows. After the wedding, be sure to stash your vows somewhere safe. If ever there’s a rocky moment in the marriage, the old wedding vows will be there to get you through. Ten years from now, you may even want to renew the vows in a second ceremony.
One tradition Belaus loves is the ‘love letter box.’ Keep the vows in a box, and each year on your anniversary put a new love letter in the box. Each successive anniversary, you and your partner may read all the past years’ love letters and write a new one for the coming year. Do it for the memories, or to share with the grandkids someday.
7. Stay calm at the ceremony. The prospect of saying your vows in front of an audience of family, friends, teachers, etc., can be terrifying. Take deep breaths. The minister will prompt you at every step, and remember that the crowd is there to cheer you on, not to judge you.
It’s not unusual for brides and grooms to get choked up while reciting their vows. In fact, says Zito, “When emotions come out, it just makes the wedding sweeter.” As long as somebody in your wedding party has a handkerchief, you’ve nothing to be embarrassed about.
That said, if the thought of saying your vows to an audience seriously alarms you, consider reciting them in private at the first look or after the ceremony. Speak to your officiant to decide on
a process that makes you and your partner comfortable. – Cissy Yu