So: to continue.
I mentioned in my previous post that my husband and I decided to recite the traditional vows in our wedding. We made this choice almost without discussion, but I think there’s merit to the decision. Keep reading.
As I’ve noted before, I’m obsessed with romantic comedies. I especially love those that end in weddings. (I’m glaring at you, Four Weddings and a Funeral. Your name is the equivalent of false advertising.) Here are some of the vows I’ve heard recited in romcoms and other flicks lately:
Eddie: Daisy Darling, today I make these vows to you. I will never rhyme “crazy” with “Daisy,” even if I mean like “crazy good.” I will not blow my nose in the shower. I promise to always consult you before getting a haircut, and never grow a mustache.
Daisy: Or a soul patch!
Eddie: Or a soul patch.
Daisy: I will not blame you for the bad decisions you make in my dreams. I will keep an eye on that suspicious freckle on your back, even though I’m really sure it’s nothing. And I will not get mad at you about everything when I am only really mad at you about one thing.
Father O'Neil: As you know, Craig and Christina are quite the sailing enthusiasts. In that light, they have elected to exchange vows which they themselves have written.
Craig: I, Craig, take you, Christina, to be my wife, my best friend, and my first mate. Through sickness and health, and clear skies and squalls.
[Maid of honor Claire is cracking up behind her bouquet; bride stares daggers at Claire]
Christina Cleary: I, Christina, take you, Craig, to be my best friend and my captain, to be your anchor and your sail, your starboard and your port.
[Claire continues to snort and laugh behind her bouquet]
Father O'Neil: And now I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the first mate.
Paige: I vow to help you love life, to always hold you with tenderness, and to have the patience that love demands. To speak when words are needed, and to share the silence when they’re not. To agree to disagree on red velvet cake, and to live within the warmth of your heart and always call it home.
Leo: I vow to fiercely love you in all your forms now and forever. I promise to never forget that this is a once in a lifetime love. And to always know in the deepest part of my soul, no matter what challenges might carry us apart, we will always find a way back to each other. …
Minister-friend: Do you take each other as spouses, forever?
Leo: I do.
Paige: I do.
Minister-friend: Then, by the power vested in me by the state of Illinois, I now pronounce you man and wife and best friends for life. RUN! [Security guards chase them out of the museum where they’ve illicitly, I guess, been holding their 10-person wedding]
We can derive three general rules from the examples Hollywood’s set for us here.
1. Make your vows actual vows.
2. Don’t “theme” your vows. (Okay, I mainly just threw that in for fun. But, seriously, don’t.)
3. Make promises you can keep.
Daisy and Eddie are a precious couple, and their lines are amusing and certainly evocative of a close and sweet relationship. But their wedding vows are hardly vows. They promised each other no permanence, no faithfulness. Paige and Leo’s vows are a foil to Daisy and Eddie’s: The opposite of promising too little is, of course, promising too much. I’m sure it sounds unromantic and unloving to say I wanted to pledge Wade no more than the traditional Christian vows do. But though Paige and Leo have a beautiful relationship, their vows are not promises they (or anyone) can keep.
I love my husband with all my heart. I’ve known I loved him since a mere six weeks after we met, when we spent Thanksgiving with his family. And I know that Wade loves me. But my love for Wade is different now —stronger, more peaceful, more comfortable—than it was that November three years ago. I suspect it will look and feel still different when we have children, when we enter middle age, and as we get old. Circumstances change—people grow—and feelings change. And for this reason, it is as unwise to build vows upon emotions as it is to make vows that mean nothing at all. Just as I would never have vowed in my wedding not to mock Wade for his boring choice in cereal (I like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, he likes plain Cheerios) or complain when he wants to watch tennis on TV, I could not honestly or reasonably vow to forever feel the same about my husband.
C.S. Lewis’s logic on this subject in Mere Christianity is simple and clear:
“…the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits one to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry. …
“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. …
But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. … ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”
Love, as Lewis explains, is a powerful emotion. It can help us subdue our lesser nature and it can move us to bind ourselves to a person, when we find the right one. But just as love (the feeling) is not the permanent bond that marriage is, love (the feeling) should not be the first of our vows or the source of a marriage’s strength. That is why we vow first to have and to hold—to stay and be faithful, regardless of the circumstances. This vow to stay, always to stay, enables (and is, in turn, reinforced by) the flourishing of the quieter love C.S. Lewis references.
So if you want to write your own vows: cool. Just make sure that your vows reflect truly what marriage requires and that they are vows you can make in truth. But keep in mind that if your vows are corny, you have no right to glare at your maid of honor if she starts cracking up behind her bouquet.