How Do I Write My Own Vows?
Question for Steven: My partner is an actor and certainly knows how to deliver his lines. He’d like us each to write—and, as he says, “perform”—our own vows for our ceremony. I’m shy and can’t imagine baring my soul in front of all our friends and family. Will it matter if I don’t write mine? Or will our guests think I don’t love him?
Steven Answers: The vows are the cornerstone of any wedding ceremony. This is, after all, the moment when you make the actual commitment to each other. Some couples prefer to do that the old- fashioned way, by simply answering “I do” to the big question (“Do you promise to love and cherish . . .”). Others prefer something more personal, proclaiming their love and devotion in their own words. There are other options, too; you may change the standard vow to personalize it, or you may choose a special poem, a song lyric, or a passage from a favorite text that puts into words what you feel in your heart.
There are no right or wrong ways to make your vows—it’s a matter of what’s authentic and works best for you. And just as your rings or your wedding-day outfits need not match, your vows can be as different as your personalities. It’s fine for your partner to write and “perform” his vows, just as it would be lovely for you to speak the standard vow or read aloud a passage someone else has written. No matter what words you finally decide to say, vows are a public affirmation that you will be with each other, from this day forward. That’s the important part.
If you decide to personalize the standard vow or write your own, the most common approach is
to look inward and come up with the words that best describe how you feel for your partner— words that describe the love, commitment, and respect in your heart. Here are some more pointers:
1. Keep them brief. This is not the time to recount all the ups and downs of your relationship. Focus on the commitment you’re making to each other.
2. Make them personal, but not too much. Keep the metaphors and generalizations incheck. We want to know how you feel, not how people in general feel on wedding daysthe world over. And don’t embarrass your partner by revealing private information (unless you ask first).
3. Ask for help. Your officiant, partner, or closest friend are great places to start.
4. Write them down. Even the most poised may become flustered or forgetful during the actual ceremony. It’s a good idea to give a copy of your vows to your officiant a day or two ahead of time in case you forget your own copy.
5. Practice, practice, practice. This step is especially important if the idea of public speaking scares you. Some couples even rehearse together as a way to help them keep their emotions in check during the service.
And if you really, truly, honestly can’t do it: Prepare something original to share with your partner before the big day, when you two are alone. You can read it to him aloud, or he can read it himself; then raise your champagne flutes and enjoy a pre-wedding smooch.
Steven Petrow is the go-to source on contemporary etiquette, as cited by The New York Times, People, Time, and NPR. His sometimes gentle, sometimes snarky, always insightful advice has made him a nationally recognized expert on modern manners. In addition to his three prize-winning etiquette books, Steven writes the “Civil Behavior” column for The New York Times and is a sought-after speaker on all matters of civilized living in the 21st century.