If you were one of the hundreds of millions who watched the royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, you got to hear a largely unchanged version of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer wedding vows, ending with:

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put

Oddly enough, it feels like most of the movie weddings use, at least, this phrase, usually then cutting to a shot of the ne’er-do-well ex boy friend or the femme fatale bridesmaid, foreshadowing the upcoming asunderness.

Odd also was the use of very traditional vows after all the talk about the new royal couple being a modern example of monarchy for a new generation.

Lets think about this whole vow businesses for a second – why do we have vows in the  first place? (and by “we” I’m talking about western wedding ceremonies).  Several years ago I was involved in a wedding performed as a secular event by a “Certificate of Solemnization” presider.  Here’s what legally is supposed to be said:

  • Ask if they’re currently married or if they are a little “too” related
  • Ask if they are aware of what they are getting into (Are you sober?  How many fingers am I holding up?)
  • Ask if they want to marry each other (Are you sure?  Really?)
  • Announce that the couple is now married

So the whole shebang could be as short as:

  • Is there anything that would legally prevent you from being married today?
  • Do you understand what you’re doing?
  • Do you want to marry each other?
  • Mary Smith and John Jones are now married to each other.

Now let’s flash back to one summer, around 1970, where my parents are reading our local paper at the kitchen table:

Mom:    Look at this – that ne’er-do-well neighbor of ours was married in a sunrise service on the beach.
Dad:    Those hippies – I bet they wrote their own vows

At the time, I was a little more struck by the sunrise aspect of the wedding than the writing your own vows part, but back  in 1970, people actually wondered if the marriage was legal or at least “real” if folks were writing their own hippie dippy vows.  While the roman church has held that the marriage liturgy may not be messed with, today, it’s considered normal to either write your own ceremony or at least a supplemental vow section, and in fact, it’s expected:

“Don’t go by the book! Add a personal touch to your ceremony by declaring your love in your own words.   No doubt you’ve worked hard to stage a wedding reception with tons of individual style, so why should your wedding ceremony be any different?”

The vows still suggest a legal-like (or legal-sounding) set of promises (“I promise to be faithful to you”) or (“I promise to have the courage to let you be yourself”), but there is also an interest in “making the vows reflect your life together”.   Your mileage may vary here; reportedly, Jennifer Aniston vowed to always make Brad Pitt’s favorite banana milkshake.

But now you have to write the damn things. The common movie version of this modern dilemma usually revolves around the groom, struggling stereotypically with his inability to express any kind of emotions in a non-sporting related event, wrestling until the last possibly second to write something on a cocktail napkin.

Recent pop culture perfectly expressed this gender divide on the real meaning of vows in fine American televisual feast,  “Bridalplasty”, where 12 women competed to win both plastic surgery procedures and a dream wedding.

In one episode, the sequestered women were asked to write vows that they thought would match the vows that their fiancés back home would have written.  The women’s guesses were largely centered around vows for undying love and romance and the men’s vows, to a man, centered on listing all tasks they wished their brides would perform after they had tied the knot.  The “winning” bride guessed correctly that her husband to be would write a vow that centered around her vacuuming duties.

Maybe William and Kate had it right.


The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

One Day Marriage Designation Instructions

Write Your Own Wedding Vows – Don’t go by the book! Add a personal touch to your ceremony by declaring your love in your own words.


‘Bridalplasty’ Recap: Vows Of Obedience