When I married who’d become my children’s father, I read my vows from an index card held by the priest. They weren’t my words or my first husband’s words. They were standard vows: love, honor, and cherish as long as we both may live, all the usual minus the “obey” lines. I’d written them out for both of us to avoid the stutter-step repetition of vows given line by line, which seemed awkward. It turns out reading them from an index card held by someone else when you’re a bit keyed up and a 100 people are watching is awkward. A few lines in, and I understood why people either just repeated vows, simply said “I do,” or held the darn card themselves.
As I look forward to marrying my partner this June, I’ve thought a good deal about vows. I briefly entertained the idea that we’d write our own, an idea suggested by our celebrant but already on my mind. Conversation about variable feelings about saying that much in public (even a tiny public) has brought us to the more traditional “I do” path (nothing to memorize, forget, or read off of tiny index cards with older eyes). That’s fine. The wedding is a moment in time, something to ponder a bit and plan, but not the main dish — the rest of our lives. How we maneuver through that event has little bearing on what happens after the last “I do.”
When I read those vows nearly twenty years ago, I meant what I said. I don’t promise lightly, and I figured that commitment was binding. Fast forward thirteen years, and I found that they held nothing unless we both held to them. Holding to vows alone, which I did for the last painful years of that marriage, yielded nothing but disappointment, frustration, and tears. However, it was for the best, that divorce, the one I didn’t want and that felt like a personal failure (I’d committed, after all), the one that I needed to remember that I had worth and dignity, whether divorced or married.
Six years later, and I’ve long regained that worth and dignity as well as a far stronger sense of self. I like to think I have a better idea about how love works after receiving love in a way that preserves that worth and dignity. I like to believe I’ve found more of myself, uncovered more confidence that I’m whole on my own and yet more so when paired with one who loves and respects me in that wholeness. I’m ready to commit. I have committed. This wedding is a formality for an assortment of reasons, as we’ve made our vows aloud and in the silence between the spoken promises.
So given the partnership was sealed some time ago, what’s the fuss about vows? It’s likely the writer in me, or maybe just my predilection for finding words for all occasions, even when they’re not needed. Or maybe I just want to express a bit of what, when I think of loving this man for the rest of our days, brings joy tinged with tears. What follows won’t likely appear in our tiny, short ceremony in June. But they are, in part what will be bound up in the words that precede whatever “I do’s” I profess.
I promise to continue to love you even though I have only a sliver of an idea of how to do that well. It’s a lifetime’s work, learning how to love, and I commit to faithful study, learning from my errors and successes and asking for assistance when I’m not sure how to proceed. This will be my life’s work, loving you more completely.
I promise to let you be you, and I’ll encourage you as you seek for what makes you whole and happy. I’ll grow, too, next to you, near you, wholly my own person and yet ever with you as well.
I promise to be your companion and safe hold when life finds you sad, lonely, ill, or discouraged, knowing that I don’t fully comprehend the depth sorrow, loneliness, illness, or discouragement can reach and possess no balm of comfort other than love and presence. May that offering be sufficient.
I promise you laughter, the low chuckles of a private joke in the dark and the rolling belly laughs of shared delight. Love is fun, and life is sometimes hilariously absurd, and I will be with you to laugh even when it’s only to bring us back from tears.
I promise you tears, tears of joy and sadness, disappointment and hope. I promise to hold you through yours, offering my presence. I promise to trust you with mine, for sharing tears is an intimacy like little else.
I promise to trust you, for without trust, we have nothing else. I will trust you to love me dearly, like me even more, and care for me without reservation. I’ll trust you to share your worries and fears as well as your joys and delights. I trust you to tell me what’s working and what’s not — what hurts or chafes — and I’ll trust you to hear my concerns, because that’s how we learn to love each other better.
Today and for all our tomorrows, these are my promises. You and our love is sacred to me, something within and between and beyond us. With you, I belong and will ever reside.