You’re about to make the biggest commitment of your life and you want to do it in your own words. It all sounded wonderfully romantic when you both decided to write your own vows, but now that you’re facing a blank page, it’s daunting. Not only are you going to compose very personal thoughts and feelings meant for the person you’re going to spend the rest of your days with, but you’re going to announce them in front of a lot of other people. Before you keel over in a dead faint at the prospect, here are some guidelines that will help.
Check With Your Officiant
Some religious ceremonies require specific wording included within the wedding vows. Make sure you know what’s acceptable within your tradition.
Take Some Private Time to Put Your Thoughts Together
Curl up with your cat or dog on your lap, take a walk in the park, or sit at the beach and watch the waves. Go wherever your mind can be at peace and thoughts can come to you. Think about this person you’re about to marry and why he or she is the one.
Plan With Each Other Before You Start Writing
You each have your own style of talking and writing, but discuss whether you’d like the tone of your vows to be similar. If one of you is planning an Elizabethan sonnet and the other intends something less formal, consider if you’ll be comfortable with that; it might sound as if you’re not at the same wedding.
Consider Parallel Construction
You may want to come up with a list of sentence starters that you can each then complete on your own. Parallel construction can help your vows flow easier, but be careful not to make it sound too much like a nursery rhyme. Things like “When times are good I promise to…,” “When times are hard I promise to…”, “When I first saw you I…”, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you because…”
Keep It Short
Vows shouldn’t take longer than about a minute each. That’s about 150 words. If you’ve got more you’re aching to say, use it in your wedding toast, whisper it to your new spouse while you’re dancing, or put it in a love letter.
Don’t Make It Cutesy
“I love you when you have pizza sauce on your chin” is the kind of thing you say to each other in the privacy of your own home, not when you’re committing to a lifetime of devotion in front of your parents and everyone you know.
Don’t Fill It With Inside References
You’re not texting each other or leaving notes on the refrigerator door. You’ve invited people to witness this exchange of vows committing yourself to one another; you want to be sure they can understand what you’re talking about. Above all, refrain from trying to slip in coded references to anything that’s really intimate. (Some codes aren’t all that difficult to crack.) Anything that has the potential to make you giggle while you say it is probably not a good thing to include.
Don’t Fill It With Quotations
If you want some inspiration, you can find lots of online sites with both traditional and offbeat vows, as well as romantic quotes from movies and literature. Given that the whole idea is to come up with your own original vows, though, think hard before you decide to fill them with other people’s words.
Don’t Use Overworn Words
Love, honor, and cherish are old words that will never lose their meanings. Awesome and amazing have been used so often to describe such mundane things as a pair of sandals or a vegan smoothie that they have completely lost their value in describing something really awesome or amazing, like the depth of your feelings for this person standing next to you.
Make It Warm, Make It Real
The point of writing your own vows is to make them personal and meaningful to the two of you. You might want to include a reference to any children the marriage is bringing with it. Don’t shy from including something light-hearted or even something unexpected that will bring a quick laugh. This is a joyous occasion, after all. But also keep in mind the very serious reason you’re getting married, and the mutual obligations and responsibilities — albeit loving — that go along with that.
Read Out Loud to Yourself as You Write
If something sounds stilted or is difficult to say out loud, revise it. Try moving the words or the sentences around. Getting a first draft on the page is the hard part; re-writing is always easier. Often a new and better way of saying something will come to you if you give it a day or two before you re-read what you’ve written.
Write Out Your Vows for the Ceremony
This is no time for three-hole notebook paper. Write or print your vows on a nice 3×5 or 5×8 card or even on a small scroll.
You’ll have the written copy to guide you, but try to memorize as much of your vows as possible so you can recite them while you’re looking at the other person instead of down at your notes. Practice speaking clearly and not too quickly so everyone seated in your beautiful wedding venue will be able to hear you.
After the Wedding
Frame your vows and hang them someplace where you’ll see them every day!