I really didn't want to write my own wedding vows. Our enormous wedding already had about fifty things that were stressing me out (giant guest list, two days of activities to plan, and the sheer number of tablecloths we were going to need to name a few), and I just didn't see “put all your thoughts about why you want to love this one person forever into a two minute speech” as an enjoyable addition to my to-do list. But just like I didn't want to invite 600 people and then did anyway, and I didn't want to do a first dance and then did anyway, I wound up writing my own vows anyway. And I did all these things for one reason: my husband really wanted to, and I wanted him to be happy. Confession time? I am beyond thrilled I did all those things, and I wouldn't change them for the world. But the vows, man. Nothing like a blank page and the pressure of speaking your intimate thoughts aloud to foster creativity, right? Haha. Ha. Add to this my husband’s request that we keep the vows a total surprise, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
Whether you're thrilled to be writing your own vows or terrified (welcome to the club), there's a lot of nerves in the writing process. I think it's because it feels so nebulous, you know? What if you say totally different things? What if yours are funny and your partner’s are super serious? What if you keep them short and your soon-to-be-spouse talks for ten minutes?
Turns out, there's totally a process here. You just have to know where to start.
- Ask your officiant for guidelines. Angie and Alicia told my husband and I to keep the vows to about two minutes max, which winds up being 300 words. Talk to your officiant about how much time you have to play with for vows in the overall ceremony, or what lengths they've seen work well in the past. Knowing how much you have to write is a helpful first step.
Personal tip: I always find it easier to write everything in my brain and then edit down than to underwrite and have to find places to beef things out. The first draft of my vows was 800 words. The final draft was less than half that.
- Pick a general format. If you are into surprises, that’s great, and you can keep the vows a secret. But it doesn't mean you just shouldn't talk about them. For those on the “okay with just a little surprise” end of the spectrum, consider writing a fill-in-the-blank style vow Mad Lib that you then both, you know, fill in. (Think something like: “[Spouse name], I'm standing here with you today because of [reason I love you]. I promise to always [thing 1], [thing 2], and [thing 3].” Etc.)
If you're on the “total surprise” end of the spectrum, discuss a much wider style format of vows. (Here's what my spouse and I came up with for our wedding — feel free to steal it: [Paragraph about why I love you], [paragraph about a specific event in our relationship that's meaningful to me], [paragraph with some promises for our future].
- The part where you actually have to write them. A tip to keep in mind: they don't have to be — and shouldn't be — perfect after a single draft. Don't sit down at a computer or notebook thinking “I have to write my exact vows right now.” Sit down thinking, “I can get some ideas on paper.” To get you started, try writing about anything meaningful to your relationship: first date, how you met, a moment in your relationship where you knew they were The One, a funny story, a little trait you just really love about your partner. Eventually, you'll have a few paragraphs of some really meaningful, heartfelt, and unique moments, and you can start working your favorite ones into your agreed-upon vow format. And if you decide this just isn't something you want to stress about anymore, call us. We can totally help you.
- Know thyself. You should read your vows out loud before the wedding. Full stop. For practical reasons, it'll just get you comfortable saying them so you're not totally scared the day of the wedding, and it'll tell you about how long your vows are running. For creative reasons, you'll notice once you're reading out loud if anything could be said more smoothly or if something doesn't quite make sense. If you are prone to stage fright, read them out loud to someone else. It's a different feeling than reading them out loud to the mirror, and the trusted friend you pick can even give you some feedback if you need it (and you can watch them burst into tears as you read them, which is validating as heck!).
- As the wedding gets closer, you will probably start worrying about the vows. Public speaking is nerve-wracking, even when you really want to do it, and even when everything you wrote is lovely and wonderful. My advice? Speak the panic aloud. The day before the wedding, I told my maid of honor about a crazy fear that had taken hold of me: I'd get up there, look at the vows I'd written, and suddenly not be able to read my own handwriting. Which is not a problem I've ever had. She lovingly listened to me say this, and then said, “Okay. Well. I don't know how to tell you this.” And then she put her hands on my shoulders, and said, “That's not a thing. Calm down.” (Weirdly the most helpful thing anyone said to me about any of the pre-wedding fears I developed.)
Writing my own vows wound up being a super rewarding experience, and I can't imagine not having done it now that I'm on the other side. We’re here for you if you need some help, and in the meantime, would love to hear any questions or advice you've got about the whole tricky business of putting your feelings into words. Did you write your own vows? Are you considering it? What's been (or what was) the hardest part?
Sara Kendall lives in Redwood City with her husband and dog. Her main hobbies are coffee, books, and musicals.