How To Write Personal Vows For Your Wedding Day
What the heck are vows anyway? This is what one of my clients googled when she stumbled up on my vow writing workshop in Portland, Oregon last year. From working with lots of clients on their weddings, I know that she is not alone in asking this question so I thought I’d try to illuminate what vows are all about so that you can make your own decision about writing them. Let me be totally transparent by saying that I am a MAJOR fan of personal vows as part of your wedding ceremony and I will try to convince you to write your own in this blog post because this is the heart center of your love story. It’s when the tears flow, it’s when the belly laughs happen, it’s when a surprise serenade leaves everyone with goosebumps. I have heard a lot of vows as a Celebrant and I can honestly say that they have all been utterly beautiful and totally different because they all came straight from the heart. So, that’s the good news. You can take a deep breath. You’re going to be fine, they’re going to be beautiful and I promise that writing your vows can actually be a fun part of your wedding planning process. Here are some common questions that I get about vows:
What the heck are vows?
Personal vows are the time in the ceremony where you get to speak freely to your partner. It’s a time to share a bit about your journey together: what you love about them, how you’ve grown as a person because of their love and the promises that you want to make as you move forward in this life together. It’s a time to have your community witness those commitments too, so they can hold you to them when things get hard, because they will. This is life, after all, and marriage is work. It’s beautiful, joyful, hard work.
Vows are different from the “I Do” statements that you’ve heard in ceremonies. Those are also beautiful and important but your personal vows are a little less structured and are really your time to share whatever the heck you want to share with your partner and your gathered community
Here’s an excerpt of the vows that were written in my vow writing workshop:
“For me, home is in your arms. A feeling of calmness runs through me. It’s where I feel most safe and tranquil. Your infectious, bright smile is the first thing I fell in love with. More specifically, the gap between your two front teeth. Laughing with you is my daily medicine. I love your perpetual quest for meaningful connections to people and animals and your thirst for adventure, nature, pleasure, travel and excitement. Your ability to learn anything you truly care to is a thing of beauty and your ability to see people for who they are and not just the surface, is a true gift. You inspire me each day by working to be your best self. I am proud of the ambitious, courageous, compassionate woman I am becoming by way of illustration. You have contributed more to my life than I thought anyone ever could. You are always there when I need you, supporting me in whatever I do.
I am grateful that you are patient with me. Whether it is my absolute indecisiveness, or my ice cold feet because I’m too stubborn to take your advice and wear socks. I love the evolving nicknames you’ve given me over time and I love that when I hear a “quack” in a crowd, it’s you calling for me. Thank you for nurturing our relationship and allowing our love to bloom to it’s fullest potential by promising a lifetime of commitment.
I promise you my true unequivocal love, my undying devotion, to not ask you to be more than you are, and to love you for being you
I promise to communicate fully and fearlessly- and genuinely welcome you to do the same…”
It goes on from there but how beautiful is that? This is the same person who googled “What the heck are vows?” a month before writing these and walked into the workshop saying that she wasn’t very good at writing. Guess what? Our hearts are beautiful writers. Let them speak.
How long should my vows be?
As long as you want, though I typically see them about ½ to 1 page typed, which ranges from 1-3 minutes when speaking them out loud. If you’re worried about your vows being way longer or shorter than your partner’s vows, talk about it before you sit down to write your vows and agree on an approximate length. No need to time them and get all analytical with it because I promise that the length of your vows has no correlation with how much you love your partner. It just doesn’t. No one will be sitting in the audience with a stopwatch timing your vows. They will be right there with you, wiping their tears away and laughing. Say what you want to say in as much time as it takes you to say those things.
What if I’m too scared to read them out loud?
That’s ok! If you’re both not into reading your vows out loud, there are a lot of different things you can do that would be less public on the day of your wedding, including writing letters that you read to each other during your first look photos or creating an abbreviated version of a longer letter that your officiant reads during the ceremony. I would encourage everyone to consider facing the fear of public speaking during your wedding moment by remembering that you’re surrounded by your closest friends and family who really know and love you. This is a great time to be human. It’s a perfectly natural time to cry and to laugh. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else on your wedding day. Be you. So, that also means that if you’re not cool with public speaking, that’s a-ok. Ultimately you know yourself best and your limits, so respect those and talk it through with your partner. Private exchanges of vows can be incredibly profound too!
Where do I even start?
One of my favorite quotes is from the beautiful movie “Before Sunset” with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and go watch it. She says “You can never replace anyone...I see in them little details, so specific to each of them, that move me...everyone is made of such beautiful, specific details”. So, where do you start with vows? You start with details. You fell in love with a unique person and there are so many specific things that you love about them. There are also specific things that drive you crazy about them. Get all of those down on paper. Give voice to some of them in your vows. How rarely do we reflect back to our partner that we love the freckle on their shoulder or the way their nose crinkles when they cut onions. There is such reverence in these little details. Start there.
From there, there are lots more reflection questions and helpful templates to consider, which you can google or ask me about. You can also sign up for my vow writing workshop to get the full experience. It’s a super fun evening of reflection, interaction and resources to get you confidently expressing yourself and connecting with your partner. The in-person workshops are taught in Portland, Oregon but I am also creating an online vow writing course for folks who aren’t in Portland. These courses are also open to couples who are not married or who are already married and want to reflect on their love stories. Vows are timeless, y’all. I also believe in creating inclusive and fiercely loving spaces in my workshops. All love stories are welcome and honored.
To sign up for my upcoming vow writing workshops, check out my workshop schedule here! I also have vow writing workshop gift certificates available if you want to give the most unique engagement gift to your favorite couple! E-mail me to purchase at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep loving, wild ones.