Writing Your Own Vows Can Feel Daunting at First, But There’s No Need to Be Intimidated
Hello, lovebirds! Are you having a wedding this summer? I’m sure you have a lot of details to sort out, like where you’re going to get 200 eight ounce mason jars, or who is going to sit next to your grouchy Great-Aunt Mavis who likes your lady fiance but wants to complain about your undercut. Weddings have lots of details! But perhaps the most important is your vows, which the two of you have sweetly decided to write on your own.
Weddings, including lesbian weddings, have become more DIY over the years, both in the spirit of cost-saving as well as making an old institution more personalized, but long before everyone had Pinterest boards of tissue flower poufs, people were writing their own vows to bring some of themselves into what can be a very traditional affair.
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It’s such a great thing to do, but here are some things to consider in the process:
Don’t actually wait until the last minute
Your wedding is not a karaoke bar. Unless you are a widely-acclaimed orator (heh) or comedian who is skilled in improvisation, do not do this. Write them before. Even some bullet points. I’m sure you’re good at “thinking on your feet” but this is not your first day on the job—this is a highly coordinated and expensive event that you invited your college friends to attend. Everyone will still love you if you make an ass of yourself, but you have options besides just winging it. Some intentionality goes a long way in planning a wedding and also having a marriage.
Consult a third party
Most couples wait to share their vows until the ceremony, so it’s great to have a friend look them over and help guide one or both of you to similar lengths and themes. There is also a question of tone. Are you having the kind of gay wedding where you ride in on unicorn Skidoos, is anyone wearing an animal onesie, or is there a polka band? If yes, light-hearted vows may follow, and may include interpretive dance. If you are getting married in a church, everyone appreciates when you get a case of the giggles, but if someone is playing an organ at your wedding, it would make more sense for you to have a slightly more grave, collected recitation of vows.
Try some poetry
This is something to consider in the larger context of the ceremony. Some folks with several siblings will give each of their siblings a very short (four line) poem and have short vows absent of quotes.
Other folks will include readings that are lengthier, and then they have the opportunity to weave in shorter quotes. This is an ideal place to pull in brief stanzas from your favorite gay lady writers—Mary Oliver! Jeanette Winterson (has anyone else written so stormily about love? Maybe not.) Adrienne Rich! etc. This your opportunity to get really gay in the details.
When I got married, I included two of my favorite stanzas by Rainier Maria Rilke (who is not a gay lady but a German poet from the turn of the last century) that I wrote on scraps of paper and taped to my wall, and included in my Facebook quotes. I generally did my best to imprint on my heart in the years before I met my sweet pea, in trying to find somebody to fall in love with that could love me expansively and honor the space between us rather than trying to collapse it.
“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.
Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
Don’t worry about memorization or your writing skills
But you might want to practice reading things while not holding a notebook in front of your face. Read them over several times, and skim the page for reference. Look your honey in the eyes while you are saying your vows.
“But I’m not a writer!”
You don’t have to be. Speak simply, avoid clichés and quotes from movies or the band Journey, and maybe unpopularly, I’m not a fan of superlatives. Yes, your love is special, but it doesn’t impress more greatly on your spouse or your guest to say that everything is THE BEST or THE ONLY. Your experiences are very specific. Your love is a very particular thing.
You fell in love with each other due to a confluence of timing, being ready, and particular qualities (you both want to raise your kids Jewish, you both like and dislike the same people, she does that thing where she pushes the tip of her tongue against her teeth when she smiles and it just slays you). Those are the things that make your connection interesting, and there are plenty of ways to illustrate your connection that won’t overexpose your relationship.
Don’t Fear Vulnerability
This process feels really vulnerable because it is! We are used to thinking of weddings as big overblown affairs (and they can be) in which genuine feeling is bowled over by carefully selected hors-d’oeuvres and all the relatives that nobody actually wanted to invite, but it is, in fact, a very earnest and tender exchange that you are making in a very public way. You are being very vulnerable in your earnestness to make public this declaration, and this may be very uncomfortable! But consider what we know from Brene Brown: Vulnerability builds your resilience. By showing up in this moment as your whole self, you are offering that to your spouse, and declaring the next part of your life from a place of strength and self-awareness.
Good luck with your nuptials! All the small pieces you do to make it your own will be worth it in the end.
Maria Turner-Carney is a therapist and writer in Seattle. You can follow her work at seattlefeministtherapy.com/blog.