As a writer, I tend to think words are pretty important. When it comes to your wedding, the words of your ceremony and particularly the vows themselves will be of considerable importance.
Many couples choose the traditional words of their shared faith for their wedding vows. Some will need to blend two traditional ceremonies, a feat best left to the couple and their officient(s) to work out. Still others will work with their spiritual leaders or secular officiants to create a slight variation on a traditional ceremony.
But if you plan to work outside the box and create your own ceremony more or less from scratch, I’ve got some advice to help you write something that you will find meaningful every time you think about it in the years to come.
Make sure you’ve got your legal/spiritual bases covered. Do a little research before you begin so that you’re sure you’re meeting the legal requirements of a marriage ceremony. If you’re writing a ceremony for a spiritual/religious figure to perform, discuss it with him/her first to make sure you’re putting in everything your religion requires. Don’t panic. This really isn’t such a difficult thing. In fact, you may be surprised at how little is necessary to cover the legal bases in most areas. Ask your officiant or look up the legalities for your area online.
Before you start writing, think about what you want to communicate about marriage. When we come to the altar, we already have a lot of ideas about what marriage is, isn’t, and should be. Your ceremony should reflect what you believe. That sounds like a no brainer, but it’s surprising how many people put no thought into what the ceremony says beyond learning when to say ‘I do.’
For my part, I read through dozens of essays and poems about marriage and about love before I started to write. Eventually I found an essay by Wendell Barry that said exactly what I believe about marriage: that it’s a journey to take together rather than an end in itself. I had never really articulated that part of my belief system before I read that essay, but the instant I read it, I knew I wanted it read during the ceremony. I showed it to Mr. Twistie and he liked it, too. We’ve been walking this path together ever since, and show no signs of tiring of one another as companions.
Know your level of comfort with public speaking during times of emotional stress. It may be that you can recite Shakespeare at the drop of a hat and are a noted public speaker, but can you do it when you’re in the throes of intense emotion? Are you fine with speaking your heart through your tears, just not when anyone is listening? How about your intended? Are you going to actually sit down to learn a long speech? Take these things into consideration before you give yourself long, complex, or especially intimate lines.
I knew I could recite vows from memory, but I also knew that Mr. Twistie wasn’t going to spend the time with the ceremony to learn long lines. I kept our lines to simple responses.
Consider what people will be hearing from you. Some things may be meaningful, but best kept between the two of you. This is not the time or the place to discuss your sex life, feelings about past romantic partners, or bathroom habits. I know all of you are far too classy to consider raising such questions in the middle of your wedding vows, but there are people who have talked openly about these and many more embarrassing subjects as part of their wedding ceremonies.
Time it out. I’m not going to tell you how long or short your ceremony should be, but I firmly believe you should have a realistic concept of how long it is before you decide you’re done with your final draft.
Make sure your personalities appear in the final product. Dozens of sites will tell you ‘get humorous’ or ‘don’t you dare put in a laugh because this is serious.’ I’m not going to tell you either one. I’m going to tell you that the point of writing your own vows is to make them about you and your relationship. That means you need to be there in the words. Whether this means putting in some Star Trek references, including a joke or two, getting deeply philosophical, or including something from a medieval tradition, go ahead and do it. If more than one of these sums you up, don’t be afraid to mix and match.
Writing your own ceremony takes time and extra effort, but if it’s the right approach for you, it can also be wonderfully meaningful.