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When is a wedding vow not a wedding vow?

By From page A2 | July 31, 2012

So let’s get personal. About personally worded wedding vows, that is. These are real-world examples from recent wedding ceremonies, featured on Brides.com (edited for space):

From a groom to his bride:

You are beautiful, kind, gentle,

loving, caring — and did I

mention that you’re funny?

So funny that sometimes only

YOU laugh at your jokes.

When I really think about it,

spending forever with you just

doesn’t seem like it’s going to be

long enough.

And from another bride, to her groom:

You have made me feel more

loved than I ever thought possible . . .

I choose you today. And I

would choose you again tomorrow.

I would go on choosing you the day

after, and every day for the rest

of our lives.

From another groom to his bride:

So what have I to offer you?

The promise to take you as my

only love from this day forward,

and to embark on a journey full

of adventure and wonder.

Each time I attend a wedding and the vows are written by the bride and groom, I don’t want to “hold my peace.” But, until recently, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Then my fiancee and I started talking about our own fall wedding and the vows we would take, and I looked at the question head-on.

A friend helped me to clarify why personalized vows make me flinch: They typically make the commitment of marriage about one’s feelings for the other person right now, not about a covenant promise before God for when the feelings aren’t there: It may be cute at the moment that a bride is the only one laughing at her own jokes, but there will come a time when that same trait sets her husband’s teeth on edge and “forever” starts to seem like a really long time — and, by the way, what about the days when she is not so kind or beautiful? And there will come a day, maybe a season of them, when the bride here doesn’t feel loved by her man at all at that moment, and wouldn’t choose him again. So just what happens if that promised “journey of adventure” becomes one of sick children and working at a job he or she isn’t crazy about for years at time?

Getting through such realities is exactly why one makes a legal commitment to marriage in the first place.

Those speaking such things during their wedding ceremonies may be setting themselves up for disappointment. Any doubts? Consider these tips for writing your own vows from About.com:

• What is the single greatest thing about the person you are going to marry?

• What is your most favorite memory of your partner?

• When you were little, did you dream of your wedding day or your future spouse? How does that vision match up (or not) with your sweetheart?

How does the person you are marrying match up to your childhood dream? Yeah, that’s a healthy picture to have in your mind 10 years into marriage when you and your spouse are fighting about credit-card bills! (That’s when you will be focusing for sure on how he or she doesn’t match up.)

Look, I loved being married, and some eight years after my unwanted divorce I can’t wait to marry Tom this fall. I’ve never loved anyone like him or known anyone as brilliant, tender or funny. You can bet all of that will be in our toasts on our wedding day.

But such sentiments won’t be in our vows, because our promise to each other is not, thank goodness, based on any of these things. Even the word “love” in traditional vows was once understood to be more about doing than feeling.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God and in the presence of these witnesses to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate and is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly and in respect for God.”

Such traditional vows don’t depend on Tom and me pleasing each other (though we will try to do just that!). They depend on our promises before God to do certain things. Period.

And that’s something we have no objection to.

Betsy Hart’s latest book is “From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports).” Reach her through [email protected]

Betsy Hart


Discussion | 1 comment

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  • WeddingsJuly 31, 2012 - 10:41 pm

    I have to object to the author's summary/selective quoting of the advice on About.com The article that the author quotes from: http://weddings.about.com/od/yourweddingceremony/a/PersonalizeVows.htm also includes questions like "What does marriage mean to you? Why do you want to be a married person?" and "What will change about your relationship once you are married? What will stay the same?" and "What is the most important thing you want to promise to your partner?" It's certainly possible to write meaningful vows that would fill the author's desires to make meaningful promises before God. You can use traditional wedding vows, of course, but there's something special about personalized vows. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water! Especially when you aren't looking at that bath water very carefully.

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