I am occasionally asked to write clients’ vows for them. Of course, I oblige, but I much prefer to guide them, and let them do it themselves. Each relationship is unique, and the vows should be too (although, of course, it’s fine for ideas to be borrowed).
The reason is simple. The vows are (or should be) so personal – they are publicly-made promises that really matter (or should!). They are wishes for your and your intended’s future. They are your thoughts and feelings.
(Incidentally, it’s a good exercise to do even if you’re not getting married – simply stopping to acknowledge what your loved one brings to your relationship.)
At one level, this public declaration is a wonderful way to start your marriage off. The composing can be a moving and rewarding time for the couple, and the public recitation can be really inspiring (often also to the guests).
You won’t get the chance to do anything as personal as this at a conventional wedding (religious or register office), so this will be a stand-out moment for you and your guests.
As a celebrant, I sometimes offer a wine box ceremony. Along with a favourite bottle of wine (for example), you could put a copy of both your vows into a chest and lock it until an agreed time (one year, five years – or if your marriage (perish the thought!) is on the rocks).
At any rate, make sure you keep a copy afterwards.
The vow section can be romantic It doesn’t have to be, though, if that’s not ‘your thing’, although you must still manage to say something nice about your loved one and your future life together. You can borrow lyrics from poems and even contemporary songs to get your message across.
It doesn’t have to be beautifully-crafted – or too lengthy (in fact, one minute will probably be ample).
All this doesn’t mean the vows can’t be funny – indeed, if they reflect your personality and ideals, that’s all to the good – but they should be well-prepared and practised. Even if there are moments of humour, the words – and how you say them – are what really count.
Don’t mistake rudeness or lack of respect for humour. Remember that you are making a public declaration, and the last thing you want to invite is misunderstanding or offence.
The humour has got to be natural and truly funny (and, as I have said, only be a part of a sincere, serious whole).
A good idea is to try the vows out in front of a well-meaning but potentially critical friend, who can listen to the vows and suggest what may and what may not work .
You want to use words which are natural to you. It’s bad enough that you may be nervous when delivering your vows (although you may enjoy the experience far more than you expect!); what you don’t want is to sound artificial and forced.
It would be lovely, if you delivered your vows while looking into your loved one’s eyes. In the real world, memory is an issue and it is more likely that you either repeat what the celebrant reads out or, better, read off a 3 x 5 card. Remember, you can read a bit and make eye contact too, and, if you have rehearsed it, you’ll remember a lot of your ‘script’.
By all means, ask your civil celebrant to help you, but do what you can to make this intimate moment really yours, and work hard – as it merits – so that you can carry it off with sincerity and even a little panache, so that it becomes a highlight of your ceremony – and perhaps a guiding-light for the rest of your life together.