Wedding Vows: Seeking Suggestions & Guidance
March 7, 2019 5:12 PM   Subscribe

We're writing our own wedding vows. We'd love any help finding beautiful poetry and prose to express the strength of our passion and commitment to one another; we'd also appreciate guidance on how to structure our vows.

1. What advice and guidelines would you give for writing one's own vows? How long should they be? What themes should we be careful not to leave out? Examples or links to examples are especially helpful.

2. We're also seeking selections from poetry and prose; what would you suggest? The more passionate, the better. Open to all suggestions, including work from both ancient and contemporary authors

Some data points about us, to give an idea of what we might be looking for:
- We're an interracial cishet couple.
- He is Indian and a Hindu; it would be wonderful to include work from Hindu and/or South Asian writers, but it is not a requirement.
- Some writers we're considering so far: Vidyapati, Hafiz, Mary Oliver, Federico Garcia Lorca, Gwendolyn Brooks.
- We've had to overcome some considerable obstacles in order for us to be together, chief among them distance and international borders. It would be more than appropriate for our vows to celebrate how we overcame these.
- We're both very passionate, romantic, expressive people; very affectionate; our love languages are definitely a combo of "acts of service," "physical touch" and "quality time."
- Due to circumstances beyond our control, our wedding is going to be a very small courthouse elopement - we're planning a more significant ceremony for maybe a year from now, at which time we'll hopefully have a Hindu priest to provide a puja, but we still want this small ceremony to be special in how we convey our love and commitment to one another.
posted by nightrecordings to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A friend and her wife just read each other poems as their vows (they both happened to choose Pablo Neruda).
posted by raccoon409 at 6:19 PM on March 7, 2019

Khalil Gibran might be a good place to start. Or Rumi.

But speak from your heart. Think about your relationship and your love, and just write steam of consciousness for 5 minutes. See what comes out. You might be surprised at how eloquent you are on your own :)
posted by ananci at 6:38 PM on March 7, 2019

There's a book called the I Do! I Do! Marriage Vows Workbook and has a bunch of writing exercises you do with your bethrothed to come up with personalized vows and it is pretty great. We went away for a weekend to work through the book together and it was a beautiful experience.

Into the Garden: A Wedding Anthology is a pretty good resource for poems and the like.
posted by hungrytiger at 7:15 PM on March 7, 2019

Q. Have you verified that the courthouse accommodates customizing the vows?
posted by calgirl at 7:16 PM on March 7, 2019

Are you having a specific professional officiant? Our officiant gave us some great jumping-off points for vows (we ended up keeping them really simple, and it all still felt super personal for us and for our friends/family).
posted by mskyle at 7:16 PM on March 7, 2019

Keep it relatively brief and to to the point.

Example: we vowed to be excellent to each other.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:27 PM on March 7, 2019

We read the ee Cummings poem I carry your heart with me, alternating lines. It was simple and worked beautifully.
posted by ohio at 9:56 PM on March 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

On paper, your vows should look reasonably short. You want to focus on the main things and if everything is important nothing is. Shorter also means easier to say. They are meant to be spoken so consider how they sound more than how they look on the page.

I am all about equality in marriage so I would want equal promises (each person saying the same things). I also think that marriage is for life and no longer, so would not be promising things ‘forever’. And I think the concept of ‘for better for worse’ matters - there are a ton of ways of expressing this. You two may well have different views to me, but the important thing IMO is that your vows reflect/symbolise your own views on what you are doing, not just who you are as people.
posted by plonkee at 12:23 AM on March 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

IAAPWO (I am a professional wedding officiant) and I have firm but adventurous thoughts on vows and vow writing!
- They are the fulcrum of your wedding ceremony, where your ‘status’ as individuals changes and you define the future you intend as a committed couple bound by law.

- By their nature they have a contractual feel. This is good, purposeful. For that reason I generally lean toward serious, achievable, and genuine promises. By all means include the promise to make your partner cinnamon toast whenever they’re sick, but also include your promises about honesty, partnership, communication, fidelity, commitment, conflict, etc.

- They should be in your own language, your own vernacular. Ten, fifteen ---heck, two!---years from now when you have a stressful life event and each of you wonders if you were fucking bananas to hook your glorious, fully functional cart to this stubborn, inept horse, you will have to be able to send yourselves through time to those vows and reassure yourself that this person is still the person who spoke those words to you, so that you can either call them on their shit or call yourself on your own shit (usually a combination of shits) without breaking the relationship.

- Agree together on a format and general length, but keep private the actual content for the day of, so you are listening closely and hearing them for the first time. Even better, have someone assess both sets of vows for balance ahead of time. It’s….painful…. when one person leaves it all on the altar and the other promises to “take the garbage out after the fourth time you yell at me, lol!” Sharing them via letter the morning of the wedding is also sweet and gives you a tangible artifact and a way to hear them meaningfully in case you’re so nervous that you space out when you’re “on stage.”

- A format that tends to work well is to say first what Your Person or your relationship has meant to you thus far...what attracted you, why you stay with them, what you see in them daily, why they are the best ever, etc. Then to talk about your momentous decision to marry: why, what gives you confidence in yourself and Your Person that this is the right thing. Finally, to describe an ideal future relationship together and commit various things to making sure that happens.

- They are generally short in relation to the rest of the ceremony, but with a courthouse elopement I could see them being the heftier part of the ceremony. Anything more than 800 words each is going to feel endless, though. That’s about 5 minutes each, and 10 minutes of a courthouse elopement is practically the whole ceremony.

- If you plan to read them aloud during the ceremony (instead of responding “I do”), read them aloud a few times beforehand so you catch any awkward, impersonal words or phrasing.

With my couples, I have a few different exercises that I base on research about the qualities of successful marriages, as well as questions to draw out the fun stuff. Then I write a draft for the content, trying to keep their language and tone, and work with each person to ensure it sounds like them. The goal is that the promises are both personalized (referencing their unique relationship) but also universalized (acknowledging the basic underpinnings of successful relationships).

My advice about incorporating poetry is to save the full poems as readings elsewhere in the ceremony and instead to riff on a line or theme from a poem as the launching point for your vows. E.g., riffing on Gwendolyn Brooks’ “To Be in Love” your vows might have a structure like this: (your affianced to you) “ ‘To be in love is to touch with a lighter hand.’ Nightrecordings, when we met, to be in love was to sing in a louder voice, to find myself singing in the shower and annoying my roommates. To be singing to my Lyft driver on the night after our first date. To be singing all the time in my heart because you made me glad with your sense of joy. After being together for three years, to be in love with you is to wake with a slower sense of time. To look at you and appreciate your thoughtfulness, to appreciate how you include my children in your life, to be humbled by your sense of service to others who need help. To love you is to fit all these gratitudes in a single moment upon waking. I promise to create and value a love that sings in a louder voice, from joy and togetherness. I promise to love with a slower sense of time that is attentive and appreciative of your wonderful and changing self. ” Something like that.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:38 AM on March 8, 2019 [10 favorites]

There are many good examples of vows at A Practical Wedding, and they also have a fair amount of good info about other aspects of your question. We used Mary Oliver and Khalil Gibran in our wedding, and they were both lovely.
posted by ldthomps at 7:52 AM on March 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is the poem I chose for my wedding.
Poem is from "Earth Apples: Collected Poems," by Edward Abbey

YES -- even after my death
you shall not escape me
I'll follow you
in the eyes of every hawk,
every falcon, vulture, eagle
that soars in whatever sky
you walk beneath,
all the earth over,
Yes -- and when you die too,
and follow me into that deep
dark burning delicious blue
and become like me --
a kind of bird, a feathered thing --
why, then I'll seek you out
ten thousand feet above the sea;
and far beyond the world's rim
we'll meet and clasp and couple
close to the flaming sun
and scream the joy of our love
into the blaze of death
and burn like angels
down through the stars
past all the suns
to the world's beginning again.
posted by Seamus at 3:52 PM on March 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

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