We wrote our wedding vows so long ago that I couldn’t find them on my computer. Surely I meant to transfer them from the first clunky PC desktop we had to my sister’s hand-me-down Mac laptop to her next hand-me-down Mac laptop to my current one. Those vows were on my mind because our anniversary is coming up, and two friends are getting married soon after. I’m fascinated, as you may recall, by the challenge of creating ceremonial language outside of a religious context; our wedding vows were probably my first attempt. But I couldn’t find them anywhere, except printed out and framed along with our wedding photo.
So I set out to copy them for you—five sentences of prologue and then the actual vows—but I couldn’t quite do it. Not the whole thing. I was 27 then, and reading the vows now at age 44 makes me cringe a little. Though Adam and I together decided on what we wanted to vow to one another, I was the one to decide on how. And, 17 years later, the writer in me has some complaints. The prologue sets up an elaborate analogy about building a home (with the help of our friends, on the foundation of our families, etc.), and though I still like the image of leaving the door of our marriage unlocked so our loved ones can enter, the general effect is a little careful and (am I allowed to say this?) tedious. When you read it, you’re just waiting to get to the good part.
The vows themselves are so hopeful they break my heart. Like reading your New Year’s resolutions in August. Or worse: reading resolutions from five or ten years ago. The promises we made were serious and demanding and we have broken all of them. But the most forgiving one—the one that shows that, although we were young, we knew ourselves and each other pretty well before we married—promises to “try.” That’s the word that keeps the vows alive despite the wear and tear. “Try” is how I look at New Year’s resolutions, too: that they should guide and inspire you to move in the right direction over the course of the year. Or a marriage. Not make you feel shitty because you didn’t immediately become—or can’t always be—your best self, but give you the courage to wake up the next morning and try again.
♦ ♦ ♦
We promise each other: I will turn to you when I am in need and care for you when you are.
We promise each other: I will take strength from who you are, forgive who you are not, and remind you who you want to be.
We promise each other: I will try to remember, whether sunk in sorrow or distracted by the day-to-day, what I feel at this moment—my sense of good fortune, my sheer joy at being with you.
We say to each other: Knowing my family and friends surround me, knowing who I am and who I want to be—with this strength and certainty I say to you,
I have only one life, it is only so long, and I choose to spend it with you.
♦ ♦ ♦
Come to think of it, we’re still working on the home, too.
Note: if you like these vows, you can use them at your own wedding, as long as you buy a few copies of A Walk Down the Aisle: Notes on a Modern Wedding. Or get a few friends to subscribe to my blog. Or send me a picture of your wedding and a copy of your version of these vows so I can post them here.
I love this piece, and your reflection, and the way you compare the intent of the vows to the intent of a New Year’s resolution, both meant as directions, not as tests to be passed or failed. I’m wondering—can people adopt the vows if they’re already married, yet can’t find their original vows? If so, you may have even more takers . . . Your friend, Dennis