It was never a question that Michael and I were going to write wedding vows. We started our relationship by wooing each other over Gchat and long email chains about how much Friday Night Lights made us cry. We love to talk about how we feel about each other. We love to compare it, categorize it, and Tweet about it. Deciding to write our own wedding vows was a no-brainer.
I also have an MFA in creative nonfiction; writing about relationships is the closest thing I have to a skill. Vow writing should’ve been up my alley.
But it wasn’t. Vow writing was the hardest thing about the wedding planning process. I often made myself sit down at the computer to really, I mean really, start writing my vows this time, and nothing came out. I felt pressure because I was a writer. I felt pressure because whatever I wrote, I’d have to remember for a very long time. Nothing I wrote seemed important enough. I felt pressure for other, incredibly dumb but seemingly big-deal reasons. I kept thinking, What if my vows aren’t cute enough?
Another dumb reason: I didn’t have any great examples to work from. My favorite stories, essays, songs, films—the stuff that feels so true—are all about love that doesn’t last. That makes it incredibly hard to write about promising to love someone forever. Even if you really, really, really mean it.
I went through all most every book in my library for inspiration. Then, one day we decided on a reading from a Ruth Krauss/Maurice Sendak children’s book called “I’ll Be You and You Be Me.” I realized that everything I love about children’s books—the ability to communicate complicated emotions in simple sentences—was perfect. No need for perfect, overly-articulate compound sentences.
Obviously, that’s just what worked for me. There is no right way to do this—what you promise to your partner is personal and unique. However, when it’s the night before the wedding, and you’re obsessing over whether or not your fiancé’s grandmother is going to boo your promises to her grandson because you referenced backgammon, it’s nice to have a few suggestions and reassurances. So here they are: some ideas for the nuts and bolts of writing your own “non-traditional” vows. I’ve also included our vows, because there aren’t many examples around, and I also like oversharing.
Decide if you want to write them together. Either way you decide is the right way. My husband and I like to surprise each other—we’re also a little too competitive—so the surprise element was fun. It felt like wrapping a gift for him. However, a friend of mine got upset because he didn’t think his vows were as good as his wife’s. It’s a good idea to consider what kind of people you and your partner are and whether or not the element of surprise would actually be fun, or another stress point.
If you don’t write them together, consider picking a structure that you both can use as a jumping off point. It’s not a bad idea to make sure that you and your partner are going to be vowing somewhat similar things. Michael and I decided to use the phrase “I promise to” as an overall structure, and to end with “thank you for marrying me.” It gave us a good place to start, and still let us write from our own voices.
Decide on a word-count maximum. It’s nice to have a constraint sometimes, especially if your husband-elect is threatening to put on a scuba suit and perform the vows as an hour-long, aquatic-love-metaphor themed rap. We settled on a 150-word maximum. It gave me peace of mind that we weren’t going to make our guests to sit through thirty minutes of vowing.
Details, details. Every creative writing workshop will tell you that good writing is in the details—specifics that speak to a larger, universal truth. It’s not a crazy idea to apply this to your vows.
I focused on a few things that I thought symbolized our relationship and (eventually) wrote my vows from that. Think of it as a writing prompt. A few (commonsense) places to start: What are the little things that your partner appreciates that you do? How does that symbolize your overall relationship? And the biggy: Is there something that you can work on to build an even better, healthier relationship? I promised Michael that I would participate in our relationship no matter how hard it might seem, because my general tendency is to shut down during conflict, and I wanted to promise in front of our community to work on that. I also promised to roll my eyes with him and not at him—because let’s be honest, I’m never going to stop rolling my eyes.
Remember that the vows are ultimately just for you and your partner. If you are a silly person, I’m here to tell you that it is okay if your vows are a little silly, or funny. Or if you’d rather just write one simple line: DO IT. If you want to rap them while wearing a scuba suit? Go ahead—if your partner doesn’t mind. Your vows don’t even have to sound like vows; you could write an essay, a sonnet, or a smooth love jam. Vows should sound like you, especially when you’re making promises to your partner. Of all days, you wouldn’t want them to sound like someone else.
And if you start to think, what if my vows aren’t good enough? I give you permission to slap yourself.
I promise to curate a faithful and fantastic marriage with you.
I promise to treat you with kindness, respect, appreciation and silliness.
I promise to participate in our relationship, even when it might be hard.
I promise to let you know when you are getting too arrogant at backgammon.
I promise to roll my eyes with you, and not at you.
I promise to make laughter an integral part of our family.
I promise to love you until I am extinct.
Thank you for marrying me.
Jen, for the rest of our very, very long lives:
I promise to love you with all of my heart, honor you with all of my actions, and treasure you like actual treasure.
I promise to keep you warm when you get cold, and to stand in the way of the sun when it gets hot.
No matter how many books you get, or how many times we move, I promise to always carry them all. Every time.
And wherever we go, I promise to be there, holding your hand and telling you, “I love you.”
You’re my best friend, and you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.
Let’s get really, really, really old together.
Thank you for marrying me.