Let’s talk about weddings. No, not about those. I already offered up an opinion on that topic. No, I want to talk about weddings in general, vows specifically.
I’ll tell you my bias right off the bat. I’m old. When I got married a hundred, er, twenty-two years ago, there were set vows that were repeated in pretty much every wedding.
I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to obey/cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
The only real trend in that regard was to substitute the word “cherish” instead of “obey”. And we thought we were being so cutting edge.
A few years later, writing your own vows became a thing. As a writer, I think that sounds amazing. UpcycleDaddy gets hives at just the thought. Clearly, it’s not for everyone, but it has definitely become mainstream.
I think it’s romantic, and entertaining, and sweet, and personal. It endears those of us in attendance to the bride and groom and gives us a sense of who they are as a couple.
I’m not a marriage counselor or an expert, by any means. But I have been married a long time. And I like it. A lot. We have a great marriage! I think sometimes when you say that people think you lucked out. But the truth is, we worked really hard for the right to say our marriage is great. It didn’t just happen. So I do know a little bit and can speak with some authority.
Vows are a promise, a commitment, a covenant to your spouse and to God of what you will do during your marriage.
They are not a statement of how much you love each other. They are not a short anecdote of your life thus far. They are not a list of what you hope to accomplish or who you wish to become.
Vows are a promise.
Danielle to Gregory
“You have been my best friend, mentor, playmate, confidant and my greatest challenge. But most importantly, you are the love of my life and you make me happier than I could ever imagine and more loved than I ever thought possible…. You have made me a better person, as our love for one another is reflected in the way I live my life. So I am truly blessed to be a part of your life, which as of today becomes our life together.”
Ryan to Tara
“You know me better than anyone else in this world and somehow still you manage to love me. You are my best friend and one true love. There is still a part of me today that cannot believe that I’m the one who gets to marry you.”
Yuval to Dina
“I see these vows not as promises but as privileges: I get to laugh with you and cry with you; care for you and share with you. I get to run with you and walk with you; build with you and live with you.”
These are lovely sentiments and very sweet additions to the ceremony. But they’re not vows.
Again, a vow is a promise made to your spouse and to God that you intend to keep forever. There is a reason that the traditional list is brief and non-specific.
Recently, I heard a young man vow to his bride that he will “dance to the music in your head.” That’s adorable, poetic, and crazy romantic. It made me smile on one side of my brain and cringe on the other. Because while the smile side envisioned them both waltzing like Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, the cringe side imagined him staring at her like she’d grown a second head while she, dealing with nasty PMS, had Guns N Roses, “I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Kill Her” playing out her ears.
The bride, in turn, pledged to “always nurture your dreams”, which sounds so supportive. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens when money is tight, she finds herself exhausted staying home with three small kids, and he suddenly decides his dream is to restore an old Camaro. (Sometimes, the best thing a spouse can do is shoot down a stupid dream before it gets beyond a gleam in the eye.)
The problem with having lengthy, specific, and unrealistic vows is that you can’t possibly keep them. You’ve set yourself up for failure at the start. Because, if you have nine unmeetable vows that you’ve already broken two months in, why bother to keep the one that really matters…’til death do you part? It’s demoralizing.
The truth is, marriage is hard and painful. It’s tough enough to stick to the basic, traditional vows, as boring as they may seem. But actually, they’re not boring. They’re basically saying:
I choose you, above all others, from here on out, even above someone I haven’t met yet that will show an interest in me when maybe things aren’t so great at home. I promise to hold only you, even when things are tough and we’ve allowed busyness and children and hurt to come between us. I will stick it out for stinky stomach viruses, icky colds, or even chronic illness or pain. I will be by your side through injury that leads to disability or life threatening battles with cancer or mental illness. I will be here when the bottom drops out and we find ourselves broke and hopeless. I will love you in a thousand different ways and I will try not to fail you a thousand more. I promise not to let disappointment in you, my own disillusionment, selfishness, boredom, unmet expectations, grief, or anything else break our marriage covenant. I vow to you that the only thing that will shatter our bond is death.
I have to wonder if the old geezers among us don’t bear some of the responsibility for the astronomical divorce rates when we don’t speak out to young couples. When we don’t talk about things like vows, or let them have an authentic look at a working marriage, or speak up about the foolishness of spending so much time/effort/money on a wedding and zilch on the marriage after, it’s like we’re willing them to fail.
Those of us with some experience, who have been there, need to keep it real for those just starting out. They need to know that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies and empty promises. It’s work. Keeping those vows, is work. It’s harder than anything they can imagine, but it’s completely, unequivocally worth it.
They need to hear that from us so that when life happens, and feelings fade, and these two people realize they don’t actually even like each other anymore, they won’t be quick to remedy their assumed mistake and throw in the towel. They’ll know they and their marriage are completely normal. Instead of leaving and wondering what went wrong, maybe they’ll stay and figure it out. Maybe they’ll choose to live by the vows, the actual vows they made once upon a time.
As they stick it out, they’ll find their groove. Twenty-two years later, when Guns-N-Roses is playing out her ears, maybe then he’ll laugh and sing along, and maybe he’ll even dance. Because when vows are sincere, attainable, and kept, there is always hope.