By the time you read this post, this garbage dump, pit-of-despair election will (hopefully) be over. It’s been pretty awful, guys. So, to get your mind off of it, I want to discuss a much less important issue that, in the midst of these crazy times, we can change for the better. Also, it’s been bothering me for a very long time and now seemed as good a time as any to rant about it.
My friends, we need to make wedding vows actual vows again.
If you’ve been to a wedding recently, there’s a good chance that at least part of the vows you heard were written by the couple. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. Although I used to be a hard-core traditionalist, Dave and I ended up writing some of ours, and I think they turned out pretty well. And it’s not like the traditional vows from the Book of Common Prayer, etc., were established at the beginning of time or anything. It’s okay to make it your own. But, if you choose to do so, please, for the love of all that is holy (like your wedding ceremony!), make sure that you are actually writing vows.
The definition of a vow is “a solemn promise, pledge, or personal commitment”; to vow is “to pledge or resolve solemnly to do, make, give, observe, etc.” In other words, you’re promising to do something. That’s how traditional vows are structured: “I take thee to be my husband, to have and to hold, for better or worse,” etc., etc., etc. But more and more, and particularly in TV show weddings, when the bride and groom write their own vows, they don’t promise to do anything; they just talk about why they want to marry each other. There aren’t vows so much as there are descriptions.
A perfect example of this is from one of my favorite TV weddings of all time, Park and Recreation’s Leslie Knope to Ben Wyatt.
Ben: In my time working for the state government, my job sent me to 46 cities in 11 years. I lived in villages with eight people, rural farming communities, college towns. I was sent to every corner of Indiana. And then I came here, and I realized that this whole time I was just wandering around everywhere, just looking for you.
Leslie: The things that you have done for me, to help me, support me, surprise me, to make me happy, go above and beyond what any person deserves. You’re all I need. I love you and I like you.
Ben: I love you and I like you.
These are incredibly sweet things to say, and when they’re paired with a montage of scenes of their relationship, I, at least, can’t help but feel a little teary-eyed. But they aren’t vows. They don’t promise to do anything. And they’d actually be more appropriate in a private conversation. (In fact, in Jane the Virgin, the guy decides to say his “vows” before the wedding precisely because he doesn’t want to talk about all that she means to him in front of everyone!). Their words here would actually be more appropriate during the proposal, when, you know, the guy is telling the girl why he wants to marry her and what she means to him and she probably responds likewise. But this is a wedding, people; theoretically, they should have discussed all of that by now.
Really, what do they even need witnesses for? They’re not saying anything that anyone is going to hold them to when times are tough. No one could say to Ben, “I know things are hard, but you promised that you would be faithful to Leslie.” All they could really say is, “I know things are hard, but you once told Leslie in front of me that you love her. Hmm...well, I guess if that isn’t true anymore, then what the heck? I guess you can break up. Forget I mentioned it!” Then again, this sadly fits perfectly with what so many people think about marriage, that it’s not necessarily intended to be for life and that you certainly shouldn’t continue in it if you aren’t feeling it anymore.** So really, promises aren’t even necessary.
At least Parks and Rec actually acknowledges, in a way, that these aren’t really vows. Tom Haverford prefaces their vows with, “Ben, do you want to say some stuff to Leslie?” and vice versa. That’s all they’re doing; they’re just saying some stuff.
But we can do better. Even if you don’t think you should say real vows in order to reflect what marriage and wedding ceremonies actually are, do it so it doesn’t seem like you don’t understand how language works. When you just “say some stuff” as your vows, you’re in the wrong genre, so to speak. It’s like if a waiter asked for your order and you recited an ode to him about his finer qualities. It’s nice, and I’m sure he would appreciate it, but you still haven’t done what you’re actually supposed to be doing. You literally had one job to do, and you didn’t do it.
Ironically, one of the few TV characters I’ve seen who actually kind of gets this and promises to do something during his wedding is arguably one of the dumbest (in an endearing way, of course): Andy Dwyer, also from Parks and Rec. Here are his vows to April:
Andy: April, you are the most awesome person I have ever known in my entire life. I vow to protect you from danger. And I don’t care if I have to fight an ultimate fighter, or a bear, or him, or your mom. I would take them down. I’m getting mad right now even telling you! I wanna spend the rest of my life, every minute, with you, and I am the luckiest man in the galaxy.
See? Yeah, there’s some description there, but there’s also a promise to take down her mom! How sweet. He even uses the word “vow” correctly. Meanwhile, his wife, usually the smarter one, says this:
April: I guess I kind of hate most things, but I never really seem to hate you. So I wanna spend the rest of my life with you. Is that cool?
Sorry, April, that’s a proposal, not a vow. All this to say: If Andy Dwyer can do this right, then so can you.
So please, friends, make vows vows again. If you’re already married, encourage any engaged couple you know to do the right thing and actually say that they’ll do something at their wedding. And TV everywhere, please stop getting this wrong, because I just might lose it if I see it happen in another show. I’m getting mad right now even telling you!
**This is NOT to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons for divorce, like adultery, abuse, or abandonment. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.