Before you say, “I do,” you’ll have to recite your vows. There’s the standard “I take you to be my husband/wife…good times and bad…sickness and health” yada yada yada. You could go with that and simply repeat what some officiant is reading, and what your guests have heard, for the umpteenth time. Or, you could chose the path less travelled and write your very own vows to let your partner know what you love about him or her so much in your very own words. How romantic. But, how to get started? What to say; how to say it? You already have so much on your plate: guest lists, invitations, flowers, caterers, photographer, live band or DJ. Who has time to write vows? You do. And we’re here with some advice about how to get your vows just the way you want, so you can remember them fondly as long as you remember your wedding.
First things first, you’ll want to agree on a few points with your significant other. Assuming you’ve already agreed on writing your own vows, you’ll need to agree on what kind of vows they’ll be. Do you want them to be humorous or traditional? Romantic? Poetic? Will you be writing them together? Will you be making the same promises (more on this below) to each other, or will each be unique in its own way. If you’re not writing them together, will you share them before the big day, or keep them a surprise until you’re up at the altar?
Once you’ve agreed on some of those points, you’re going to want to read a lot of examples. They’re all over the internet—just type “wedding vows” into your browser. Be careful to only use these examples as a guide, not as your actual speech. You probably won’t get in trouble for plagiarism, but could you imagine your partner’s horror if they ever discovered you only love them as much as a googlebot loves typepad!?
Now that you’ve brainstormed some ideas about what to say, start jotting down notes. Just go ahead and write it all down, everything, important or not. You won’t end up using it all, but at this point more is better. Later, less will be more, but we’ll get to that. Think about relationship milestones. When did you meet? Under what circumstances? What are some of your favorite shared memories? What are your favorite personal memories of your relationship? When did you realize you wanted to marry your partner? Think of a couple relatable stories that demonstrate your commitment to each other.
Now that your page is filling up with all sorts of great material, it’s time to cut it down to size. It was William Faulkner who said “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” which admittedly might not be the best phrasing here, but the sentiment is still correct. Make sure to omit anything that will be too embarrassing to your partner. You can mention the time s/he tried to jump over a fence but didn’t quite clear it and fell face first into the pavement, but only if it serves some greater purpose to your story. Maybe that’s the moment you knew s/he was the one. If it’s just a funny story, best to leave it out. Your guests don’t need a recap of your life together, they just want to know the money they spent on a registry gift was well spent.
So, what should you keep in your vows? The first thing to note is the definition of vow: “a solemn promise.” So you’ll want to include a promise or two to your partner, something along the lines of fidelity, love and partnership. As noted above, you’ll want to agree with your partner if your solemn promises will be the same, or if each of you will be coming up with your own. Another tip to keep your vows fresh and memorable is to avoid clichés like the plague. See what we did there? Odds are you’ve never had to avoid a plague, so the meaning of that phrase loses its muscle, becomes so generally vague that it loses all meaning. You don’t want your vows to be meaningless, do you? Avoid clichés like Route 27 on a Friday in July. Say what’s really in your heart, not something you heard was in someone else’s heart once.
Now that it’s written, how should you say it? If the thought of spilling your heart out in front of a room full of people—friends, family and strangers alike—gives your stomach a turn, consider meeting with a public speaking coach. Can’t find one or don’t have the time? Check out tips online, where you’ll find gems like “make eye contact,” “talk slowly,” “enunciate” and “turn nervousness into excitement.” You could always try to imagine the audience naked, but remember that grandma might be there.
In the weeks leading up to the big day make sure to practice. This is something you can’t do enough of. By the time you get up to the altar you’ll want to have your vows memorized. Recite it out loud in your car on the way to work; on the way from the subway to your house or office; go for a walk and run it through your head over and over. Talking through it will also help focus the narrative, allowing you to add where you need and cut what you don’t.
Now it’s the day. Make sure you have a clean copy of your vows to bring up to the altar with you. Even if you’ve memorized it (which you should have) your nerves might get the best of you up there in front of all those people. You don’t want to forget your vows.
Still flummoxed? Seek out the help of an expert. The East End is full of talented writers. If you don’t know anyone, odds are someone you know does. Get in touch.