…follow these five suggestions so neither you nor your guests will regret your decision to do so. Let's face it, when couples stand at their altar and fumble through this portion of a wedding ceremony everyone is uncomfortable, and a little bit of forethought goes a long way.
Don’t worry about memorizing.
Even if you are a world class orator, its doubtful your partner is. The last thing you want during the wedding is one of you morphing into Oliver Wendall Holmes while the other turns into that kid in speech class who stammered “and, uh” for what felt like an eternity only to breathlessly give up and sit down in a cloud of “I suck.”
Honestly, your guests are there to support and encourage you. They aren’t there to hear you give a great speech, no matter how romantic you think it will be to look into each others eyes while making lovey talk.
If anyone is to be a great orator at your wedding, let that job fall to your officiant. Memorizing a speech isn’t worth the pre-wedding nausea, and no one will think any less of you for reading your own words.
Joy is the goal. Nervous anxiety about a memorized speech is an uninvited guest.
Write your vows, with a pen, or on the computer, but really, write them.
This may seem obvious, but physically write your words at least a few days before the ceremony somewhere other than a lonely loose-leaf sheet of paper. If you are intentional with your words, they will be received not as a scribbled afterthought, but as the authentic composition that your partner deserves to receive.
And about that sheet of looseleaf paper that you have folded and unfolded a hundred times on your wedding day: By the time you’ve retrieved said paper from your suit pocket or unwrapped from the stem of your bouquet, the combination of nervous sweating and origami folding and unfolding will leave your words barely legible.
Get a little blank Moleskin journal. Write “His” on one cover, flip it over and write “Hers” on the other…(or write “His” and “His” or “Hers” and “Hers”…whatever, same-sex marriage is legal now, we’re past that, get over it, now back to the journal.)
Write your vows here, in the front and back. When prompted by the officiant, retrieve the journal and deliver your best composition. After the ceremony, your vow journal becomes a keepsake, something you can show your grandkids as you say, “These are the words Grampy and I said to each other when we still had our own teeth.”
Agree on the length.
If you haven’t predetermined a length for your vows, there is a better than average chance one of you will feel the white hot glare of inadequacy in front of all those people you have lovingly invited to witness your blessed day. Let’s say one of you waxes poetic for five pages a la E. E. Cummings, while the other painfully resonates like Rocky walking Adrian around the ice rink. This is called imbalance, and you don’t want it at the altar. Setting expectations together will make all the difference.
Modest is hottest.
If you are inviting guests to your wedding, everything you say to each other during your vow ceremony should be appropriate for every ear to hear. If you want to stand at your altar and recite lines about “caressing your alabaster bosom” or “being lost in your eye pools while we share a heartbeat” then don’t invite real people to your wedding, because words like that are just gross during a ceremony. Language like this could embarrass your guests. If you must say these things to each other, save it for the honeymoon. Don’t torture your guests with inappropriate language, topic, or tone.
Again, since you have guests in attendance, there should not be a portion of the ceremony that feels like intruding on an inside joke. If you don’t want anyone else to hear your vows, there is no reason to waste your guests time by reciting them to each other in a whisper or state of audience confusion.
By speaking loud enough for everyone to hear, you allow your guests to be active participants in your ceremony, not merely dressed up placeholders who are wondering what you just said while deciding your ceremony is too long anyway.