Rabbi Lev Herrnson
Writing Your Own Wedding Vows
Writing your own wedding vows can be challenging, but it certainly shouldn’t feel like drudgery! Many couples these days want to write their own vows but, for one reason or another, one or both partners may leave the writing to the last minute. You know you love your partner—and wish to spend the rest of your life together—so why is it so difficult to commit your thoughts and feelings to paper? It shouldn’t be, and the following tips may be of some assistance.
Start with a list, and start early
Bullet out the character traits you most admire about your partner. Observe how your partner relates to you, your family, and his/her own family of origin. Remark on your partner’s professional life and ambitions, determination and persistence. Set your list aside and, after a week or two, take another look. Is there something you’d like to add? Firm up your list and then, organize it in order of what’s most important or touching to you.
Make a promise (vow) or two
Once you’ve got your list in place, it’s time to consider one or two promises you care to make publically to your love. Try to avoid the cliché and instead focus on real and attainable goals of togetherness. Your promises of love might reflect ways in which you hope to complement (not compliment, unless that’s a goal) your partner’s life and interests. Mostly, your promises are an expression of your investment in your future. How will you support and sustain your love moving forward?
Write it out
You’ve prepared a short, ordered list, and you’ve named one or two promises to your love. Now it’s time to convert those bulleted items to full sentences. Yes, write it out! Couples sometimes plan to speak extemporaneously, based on their lists. My experience tells me it’s much better to write out your formal vows, word-for-word, based on your list. This way, you’ll feel less pressure to “perform” in front of the assembly of people listening intently; instead, you’ll just need to read what you’ve written. Yes, write it out!
Try not to stray far from your list and a couple of promises. Poetry, lines from your favorite novel, sayings from the old country—all can deliver potent messages, but your vows are intended to be personal. Use of other sources can detract from your endearing and eternal expression of love. Just be you!
Intimacy is intended to be intimate
“When I first laid eyes on you, I thought, ‘Wow! S/he’s hot!’ ” Intimacy is an important part of any relationship, but expressions of lust don’t have a place in a public, religious ceremony. Your guests are certainly glad you feel this way about each other, but they don’t want to hear about it. Most importantly, how will your in-laws-to-be feel when they hear you describe their child in objectifying, and perhaps crass, tones. Your guests know that you are attracted to each other. Reinforcing that point during your vows cheapens the timeless sentiments of love, kindness, caring and support.
Unless you want it on the front page of the New York Times…
Unless you are comfortable seeing your words in print on the front page of your hometown paper, Facebook, Instagram, etc., don’t put it in writing. In other words, keep your audience in mind. The challenge of writing personal vows is striking a balance. You’re about to prepare and present an expression of your innermost personal thoughts and love, to be delivered to your partner, and to a large, wide and varied audience. Focus your sentiments on your partner, and you’re likely to strike a happy and reasonable balance without exposing too much of your inner and/or private life.
Keep the length in check
Yes, it’s your day, the most important day of your life, and the start of your life together. Still, you’re marrying each other and not your guests. By limiting the length of your vows to a reasonable time period, say two or three minutes per partner, you’re guaranteed to keep everyone’s attention. Go on too long and even your partner—in the spotlight, so to speak, my have a difficult time hanging on to every word you pronounce.
Ask for help!
Your wedding officiant can help you and your partner by reviewing, in separate, your draft vows. This way, each partner is touched and surprised in the most loving of ways, yet all is certain to go smoothly. I often help couples by reviewing their drafts, ensuring that the tone and length of the two sets of vows are balanced. I scan for, and propose the editing of, puzzling language and unintended double entendres, to ensure that the listening audience (your 150+ guests) is also treated to an appropriate and touching expression of love and commitment. Once you’ve come to a final version with your rabbi, practicereading your vows once or twice in private. Remember, on the day of your wedding, you’re under an enduring spotlight. Your spoken delivery of your affection should be perfect just as your appearance is stunning.
Put someone else in charge
As a courtesy to my wedding couples, I always have copies of their vows, each in a separate envelope, under the chuppah, ready and waiting for their arrival to the ceremony itself. This way the happy couple doesn’t need to remember to bring copies (or in the case of the bride, wonder whereshe will keep her copy).
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