Your wedding, first and foremost, is about the two of you, so keep it emotionally vested by doing the following:
Borrow wedding videos from other couples and, when viewing the exchange of vows, think about what you like best and least and what you can adapt for your own vows.
Give the person who will conduct the ceremony a chance to get to know you both. Have a consultation to discuss the tone of the wedding, sharing how you met and what you love about each other. This personal information will help the officiant work with you to design the ceremony you want. If you don’t have an officiant in mind (such as the cleric at your house of worship), ask around, or go to the website of the National Association of Wedding Officiants (nawoonline.com) to find one in your area.
You may want to ask that your union be blessed by God or to otherwise acknowledge the spiritual ramifications marriage holds for you. If you both follow the same religion, you may simply ascribe to its vows and rituals. If your spiritual leanings are less defined, or if the two of you were raised with different faiths, have a soul-searching discussion with your fiancé. Talk about what brings meaning and value to your life and how best to incorporate this in your ceremony. Start this conversation early, and make no assumptions.
Once you both have an idea of the spiritual tone you want to strike, find the best person or people to perform it―a member of the clergy, a locally licensed secular humanist, a justice of the peace, or a judge. (Tip: Experience with weddings is a plus in an officiant, especially when it comes to recommending readings, music, and prayers.) And consider enacting a ritual―such as lighting a unity candle or sharing a glass of wine.
Alternatively, you can ask a trusted friend to perform the wedding. Fees, forms, and how-tos differ by state, but your county clerk’s office is a good place to start researching. Interested parties can become ordained online through the nondenominational Universal Life Church Monastery (themonastery.org) for free, or through Rose Ministries (openordination.org), which offers several packages, from $29 to $149. (Note: Not all states recognize these kinds of marriages, so research the laws in your area to make sure your union is legal.)
Though it is your day, you should give some thought to your guests, particularly your parents (especially if they’re footing the bill). Consider integrating them into the ceremony thus:
Have the officiant ask a question or two (for example, “Will you celebrate with John and Jane, encourage them, and remind them as needed of this day?”), to which the assembly replies, “I will.”
While it’s traditional to exchange vows with your backs to the assembly, choose to have the bride, the groom, and the wedding party facing front, with the officiant off to the side or with his or her back to the audience.
2 of 3Debra McClinton
Who should choose them: Couples who aren’t sure what they want and those who suffer from stage fright, since the officiant does most of the talking. If you and your fiancé have strong ties to a particular religion and you just won’t “feel married” unless you repeat the words you’ve associated with weddings for as long as you can remember, traditional vows may suit you best. Couples who wish to keep their intimate feelings private should pick the traditional-wedding-vows option as well.
What to know: A requirement of most ceremonies in the United States involves what the Book of Common Prayer, used by Anglican-Christian organizations worldwide, calls the “declaration of consent” (usually referred to as the “question of intent”), in which the couple must indicate they enter into marriage of their own free will (“Do you take this man...”). However, in many weddings, this declaration is followed by the exchange of vows, with the couple facing each other as they speak (think of the widely recognized “for richer for poorer” vow sequence). These days most people refer to both of these elements as “the vows,” although your average city-hall ceremony will often include only one question: the question of intent.
For wedding-related Bible readings, personalized readings, and sample vows, poems, and passages, visit foreverwed.com.
Pick up a copy of The Everything Wedding Vows Book: Anything and Everything You Could Possibly Say at the Altar―and Then Some, by Janet Anastasio and Michelle Bevilacqua (Adams Media Corp., $10, amazon.com) or Bartlett’s Words for the Wedding, by Brett Fletcher Lauer and Aimee Kelley (Little, Brown & Company, $16, amazon.com) for some ideas.
Once you find something you like, ask the officiant to adapt the language to reflect your beliefs. Even a religious wedding may be individualized by modernizing traditional language.
3 of 3Debra McClinton
Who should choose them: Brides and grooms who wish to be unique. The DIY approach allows you to say exactly how you feel about each other in your own words―words that, theoretically, no other couple has put together in just this way before. But composing oaths of your own does take work. You and your fiancé don’t have to be Emily Dickinson and Lord Byron, but it helps to have a way with words. And don’t expect the perfect phrases to spring automatically from your pen simply because you’re in love. Chances are, you’ll have to do research and seek inspiration. Consider, too, that the more you personalize your pledge, the more you’ll probably talk, which calls for a certain comfort level with public speaking. Whatever you choose to say, write it down on a piece of paper and have your maid of honor carry it to the altar in case nerves leave you tongue-tied.
What to know: To get the creative juices flowing:
Exchange love letters with your fiancé. Keep a copy of the one you write, and reread both letters when starting to compose your vows.
Review old journals, look at souvenirs from your best dates, revisit places that mean a lot to you both, flip through photo albums, and recount anecdotes from your relationship (that undercooked cheeseburger he made you on your third date, the way you consoled each other at a Super Bowl party after your team blew it).