Out of all the things that make for a truly personalized wedding, I believe that wedding vows are a real top-ranker. Whilst some couples prefer to repeat traditional (religious) vows after the priest or the celebrant, I strongly urge you to spend the time on writing your own wedding vows. When, if not on this special day, do we get the chance to speak our mind about the little (or big) things that make our heart miss a beat when this person is near? When do we get a chance to make the biggest promises of our life, to this person? Sure, one can respond by telling me “every day”. But hey, not every day we get to do it in front of a crowd of friends, relatives and colleagues who came to share this joy with us; not every day this moment in time will be forever caught on tape (or whatever they catch them on these days) & finally, not every day we actually dedicate an entire day to celebrating the union with the love of our life.
So if you really want to make your wedding day a unique experience, grab a pen (open a new word doc) & start writing about your feelings. And for those of you who are stuck and staring on the blinking cursor on the computer screen, or end up passionately chewing on the pen’s tip, I wrote this post, describing 12 main steps to writing heart-felt, sniffle-worthy wedding vows.
Together with your fiancé, agree on writing the vows
This might seem superfluous but you should really make sure you and your partner are on the same page and both want to go for personalized wedding vows. If you both agree on writing them, decide whether you will be writing them together or will only show them to each other the day before the wedding, or it will be a complete surprise to be revealed only during the ceremony. This choice really depends on what kind of people you and your future husband are and whether making it a complete surprise will bring about the excitement of anticipation or just another stress point.
Decide on the structure, tone and length of the speech
Will your vows be deeply serious and romantic or slightly humorous, religious or secular, in prose or in verse? If you decided to keep your vows secret until the wedding day, make sure that you at least choose a similar structure and style so that you sound harmoniously. Nobody wants to find themselves in a situation when you vow to love him till you die and hear something like “I vow to praise your cheese macaroni” in return. Agreeing on the structure will also help you to stay within a certain time limit: I suggest keeping it to a maximum of one minute. Making your guests roll their eyes on the 4th minute of you reading your vows is not the reaction you want to get.
Speak to your celebrant or officiant
Often overlooked, this step is actually extremely important. Do talk to your celebrant and tell him about your intention to read personalized wedding vows to each other. If you are having a religious ceremony, your celebrant might ask you to show him your vows in advance (if you look at this video, you will understand that priests take wedding ceremonies very seriously – one might think even too seriously). Another point to clarify is whether you will be requested by your celebrant to read religious vows along with your personal ones: many Jewish and Catholic congregations will ask you to do that.
Seriously. Who can ever concentrate on feelings while having Facebook & Twitter open, texting with a friend on the phone, having TV on in the background & music in the headphones? All you need to put feelings on paper is calm, tranquility & some easy music as the only noise. So switch off your phone & close all the irrelevant windows. Take some time off to think about all the things that make your relationship so special. Think about hard and happy times you’ve been through as a couple & what you’ve learned from them. Think about the promises you would like to make.
Read as many vow examples as you can, borrow ideas from poetry, movies, classical literature, religion and other couples, write down the lines that inspire you – later you can integrate them into your vows. Don’t be put off by a mess in your head: this is somewhat unavoidable, especially in the very beginning of the writing process. However, what really speaks to your heart will stay and out of a dozen quotations you will actually only use two or three – those that capture your feelings the most. You can also use them as a jump-off point to overcome the writers’ block. I personally believe that using other people’s wisdom in your vows is a great idea: some love quotes are just so beautiful that it would simply be wrong to ignore them.
Write a lot and do not postpone till the last minute
Time is one of the most important aspects of wedding planning, so do not underestimate how quickly it flies. I suggest to start 3-4 months before the Big Day – trust me, when you eventually get your hands on writing, this time won’t seem like too much. You will spend 2-3 weeks on reading and research. Another 2 weeks will be needed to select the best borrowed love quotes and edit them. Then writing your own vows, cutting, expanding, editing them… Bottom-line: do not procrastinate. If you end up frantically writing the speech the night before the wedding, not only will you end up pulling your hair out in despair and stress but it will also show in your vows. Pay it the attention that it deserves.
Ideally, the clean text should be ready a couple of weeks before the ceremony. A month is even better: you will have plenty of time to rehearse it. And don’t forget that you might have to give the copy to your celebrant for approval.
Another thing I suggest is writing much more than you will actually need. Include everything you like and consider important in the first draft, without counting words. Key memories, hardships that you’ve overcome, personality traits you love about your future spouse – all this written down will eventually help you understand the elements you want to keep & those that can be left out.
Plagiarism is welcome – in fact, I always suggest borrowing freely from spiritual texts or literature. But do not overdo: the last thing you want is to make a bunch of random quotations out of your vows. Look for those citations that really strike a chord with you and are a reflection of your relationship with your fiancé and his personal qualities that you appreciate the most. Once found, sneak them (the citations, that is) into your vows. Remember that the goal is to strike a balance between “something borrowed” & “something new”.
Your relationship is key
If after all the steps described above you are still experiencing difficulties in writing and/or are unhappy with what you have, try to answer these questions – they’ve helped more than one couple to overcome that nasty writer’s block:
- what did you think when you first saw him/her?
- when did you realize you were in love?
- what made you fall in love?
- at which point did you understand you want to spend the rest of your life with him/her?
- how did this relationship change you?
- what makes your relationship unique?
- what hardships have you been through as a couple?
- how do you support each other?
- what have you achieved together that you wouldn’t have been able to achieve on your own?
- what do you miss the most about her/him when you are apart?
- what inspires you in your partner?
- what do you admire about him/her?
- what made your relationship stronger?
So here you go. If answering these means writing 3 full pages – that is okay. As I mentioned earlier, write a lot, write much more than you need. If you feel your vows are running longer than 1.5 minutes, do an edit and leave some beautiful words for a letter to your fiancé that you will give on the morning of your wedding or for a toast dedicated to him/her.
Yeah, vows are called this way for a good reason. So now that you’ve answered all those questions in Step 8, you should be feeling ready to make some promises. Get at the heart of what marrying this person means to you and what you are ready to do to make this marriage work. Write them well but be honest with yourself and with your loved one: do not promise something that you don’t really mean or something that you just know you won’t be able to do. For instance, I know for sure that when it comes to my own vows, I won’t be promising my fiancé never to go to bed angry. It’s a nice little phrase but it’s just not about me (I remember times when I kicked him out of the bedroom for the night – so much about “not going to bed angry”). Right. With this, I do intend to make some very serious promises and do intend to work hard to make my marriage a happy one. I just can’t write anything else for now – my bf is following my blog & I ain’t giving him no more hints! 😉
Avoid allusions, embarrassing jokes & deeply personal stories
A couple of sweet romantic jokes will only make your vows better – if you decided to write vows with a touch of humor. But all that is embarrassing, overly cryptic or includes deeply personal details or code words should be limited. You have invited your friends and family to share this special day with you, so make sure they can follow what is being said. Even if they don’t feel exactly what you are feeling, they will want to feel included. A good way to see whether you are moving in the right (wrong) direction is to think about how your vows will sound to your grandmother. Or to your colleague. Or to you, in 10-20 years from now. Another option is to ask a close friend, a celebrant or a family member to read them over & tell you what they think. That is if you feel comfortable sharing your vows with anyone, of course.
Practice out loud
You don’t have to learn your vows by heart but when it comes to practicing, it is really a must. Stand in front of a mirror (a hanger, a lamp…), get a stopwatch to measure time, look up (you want to be looking at your partner – not staring at paper) and record yourself. While playing back you will see what needs editing. Try to speak clearly and loud enough for your guests to hear you (don’t overdo – I heard of one bride who got so nervous that she started yelling her vows. The goal is to be heard – not to have guests with perforated eardrums). For bigger weddings I recommend getting a second sound system installed at the ceremony: you won’t have to yell & your guests will still hear every word you say.
Make a clean copy and do a final word count
This is your final step, which includes making a clean copy of your vows on a nice card, printed or handwritten – a copy that you will use during the ceremony. This means no cross-outs (I thought you were steamy hot really special), no arrows (this line goes here –>, not there <–), no abbreviations or acronyms (it’s so diff.2 und.mlns of abbr.in txt). Firstly, it is important that you don’t end up deciphering your own speech during the ceremony. Secondly, it is important because chances are, this little sheet of paper will be on photos – and the last thing you want is for it to look like someone has chewed it right before the ceremony. Clean copy will also mean a final word count. Remember that even the most beautiful and heartfelt speech will bore people if it is longer than 1-1.5 minutes (that is about 100-150 words). Trust me, one minute is much more than you think, when you are only saying what really matters to you two.
And here’s the last advice: remember that at the end of the day, this is YOUR day, YOUR wedding and YOUR choice – what to say, how to say and for how long to speak. Your vows should sound like you and be a reflection of your relationship. For what it’s worth, you can dress as a hotdog and sing a Spanish serenade – if this is what you and your fiancé want – go for it!