Advice From A Lesbian Bride: Tips For Writing Heartfelt Vows

Tara Tomlinson Photography

No one will remember the linens, but they *will* remember the vows.

Before we start this lovely little how-to GO guide, allow me to confess this very blatant life truth: I SUCKED at being a bride.

Zara throwing Bride Shade.

Because I happen to “present” as a “femme” (I prefer to identify as a mascara lesbian) people seem to be under the (false) impression that I spent every second of my unmarried life fantasizing about my wedding day, and nothing in the world has ever mattered MORE to me than picking out, I don’t know, linens or whatever.

The truth is, aside from insisting the vibe of our wedding was “1970s Beverly Hills Party on acid” and ensuring there was a unicorn and a mermaid present for the pending nuptials, I wasn’t obsessed with the details. (I left lights and linens and “run of show” up to my type-A wife).

I wanted so badly to be the girl who was besotted by the wedding details, but my mind would wander away into the pink clouds during all of those long, arduous meetings with vendors (meetings had I drink my way through because I found them so…excruciating).

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved and cherished every single second of my wedding. It was the Beverly Hills retro fairytale of my dreams! Most importantly, I absolutely love and cherish my wife.

(Pro Tip: Don’t rush a proposal because you want to experience the whole wedding saga. It’s ~one~ day out of tens of thousands of days you’ll experience in this lifetime. If you’re simply desperate to get glammed up and be the center of attention that badly, go get your makeup done once a week, babe! Get a blowout. Go to more black-tie events. Because the day after the wedding, you will wake up and you will no longer be the pretty, pretty princess anymore; you’ll just be a wife. And you’d better love the person you’ve chosen to marry, because the bridal circus sparkle wears off literally overnight.)

But let me tell you what part of my wedding I simply soared at: VOWS, baby. VOWS!

Look: I might’ve drunkenly binge ate the night before my rehearsal dinner, and I might’ve led the most disorganized wedding rehearsal to ever exist, and I might’ve forgotten to throw the bouquet, and I might’ve tripped over my wedding dress sixteen or so times (and possibly ripped the bottom), but your girl did crush her vows.

And I’m going to help you crush yours too.

Tip #1: Relax! 

If I put pressure on myself to write anything at all, I become instantly paralyzed. And even though I’m a professional writer who has penned thousands of essays on the internet and has even written a book, I teemed with relentless anxiety over my vows.

My fingers hovered over the beloved keys of my laptop, unsure of what to do. I stared at the static screen like it had a foreign language written all over it.

Then it hit me: The best work comes from being in a ~relaxed~ state. Creativity can not flow through you when you’re a tight-ass.  Creativity needs you to be flexible and limber in order to move with you. Creativity is not like other muscles that require flexing and stiffness; it’s a languid, liquid muscle that needs to be gently massaged if it’s going to serve you.

So stop worrying about your vows being “good.” In fact, the first thing you need to do is give yourself permission to write bad vows. Get the notion of “good writing” and “bad writing” out of that stressed-out head of yours, okay? Don’t be so precious — so serious! Writing isn’t ballet! Writing is a rave. Writing is a fucking blast.

So put on some wild, inspiring, guttural music; light a candle; get cozy on the couch; grab a glass of vino; and slap that laptop on your lap. Let’s party!

Tip #2: Warm-up! 

Softball lesbians, this metaphor is for you. Okay, so let’s imagine that you are about to play in a big competitive sports game. You would stretch before you played, right? Because if you don’t stretch your muscles before the big game, they would be all stiff and shit, and you wouldn’t be able to perform at your most optimal capacity, amirite?

Why do we think the arts are any different? Like I said earlier, creativity is a muscle like anything other muscle. And chances are, you haven’t worked your creative muscles out in a while. You’re out of shape, but that’s OK. I’m going to lead us in a warm-up right now.

Grab a pen, if possible. You can type if you’re truly averse to the pen and paper life, but there is something really quite powerful about warming up the old fashioned way. Putting a pen to paper knocks us right out of our comfort zones, which is imperative to the creative warm-up.

Now that you have your pen (or laptop, if you insist) I want you to free-write three pages. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with your vows or your partner or love for that matter. Make it a total stream of consciousness word vomit, scrawling out whatever is in your head. If nothing is in your head, start with “Nothing is in my head. This warm-up is stupid. I hate Zara,” and take it from there.

Important to note: This warm-up is not to be shown to anyone! This doesn’t have to have good grammar or even make sense. It’s a brain dump, so you can rid yourself of the bullshit and get to the good shit that lingers beneath.

3. Tip #3: Get specific. Super specific. 

Now that you’ve warmed up your creative brain, it’s time to get specific.

Let me backtrack: I think the most powerful, unique vows are based around a story. Plus, writing can sort of feel like you’re aimlessly flying through the sky, not knowing when or if you’ll ever land on solid ground. A story will serve as your parachute. It will bring you safely back to the land. It will ground you.

So let’s think together. What stories about your beloved POP right into your head first? Your first instincts are almost always the way to go, because it’s your gut leading the way, not your brain. And guess what lives in the gut, babe? Love.

Write down the first three stories that fly into your portal. Which one ~excites~ you the most? Which one makes you ~feel~ things? Which one will be fun to tell? Don’t worry about choosing “the most romantic” or “the most intense,” for sometimes the most heartfelt vows come are rooted by the weirdest, most-mundane seeming stories!

Example 1: A friend of mine wrote about how her husband-to-be asked if he could come over and make her breakfast right after their first date. She said “of course,” expecting Eggs Florentine or something equally as chic, because he was clearly trying to impress her. But he actually came with a box of cereal! And then asked her if she had milk! And even though it was such a stupid, basic breakfast, she fell in love with him that day. Without the glitz and the glam of some stuffy french breakfast, they let down their guards as they ate fucking cereal in their pajamas and watched cartoons together.

Example 2: During my vows, I told the story about the first night I spent with Meghan. Much to my dismay, she had this MURPHY bed in her studio which terrifies me to the bone. I’m always certain a Murphy bed is going to flip up while I’m in it, and I’ll be flattened like a pancake. But ~I knew~ I loved Meghan, because I was able to withstand the wrath of the Murphy bed! In fact, the whole night I felt excited to be facing my fear of the Murphy bed yet safe because I was with her. And isn’t love being both excited and safe at once?

Do you see what I mean here?

A little story of catching the person you love in a small, intimate moment means so much more than a general cliché about what love is.

Start writing your story and let it flow. Describe the sparkle you saw inside of them, the specific thing they did that made you feel so magnetically drawn to them. Feel free to be funny! Include all the details and don’t edit yourself. Write as if no one is watching. Because no one is. 

Tip #4. Feel free to use song lyrics, poetry, or quotes from your favorite movies! 

Look, sometimes you can’t get across the very core of what you feel for your lover with your own words. Meghan and I both love Lana Del Rey, and nothing describes the love I feel for Meghan like this line from Lana’s anthem “Radio:” Now my life is sweet like cinnamon, like a fucking dream I’m living in. 

Don’t be a hero; all the great writers steal from other great writers! Maybe it’s a line in a movie, you both love, maybe it’s a quote from your favorite Netflix show that you binge-watch together, maybe it’s poetry, maybe it’s music, maybe it’s from a book. But throwing in an extra little quote in there only makes your vows that much more dynamic, human and interesting. Think of it as your “something borrowed.”

Tip #5: Give your vows personality!

“I vow to love you forever,” isn’t exactly unique, if you know what I mean. This is your one time to announce your love in front of the masses! Don’t be basic when it comes to stating what you vow to give your love. Have a personality! So how do you have a personality in your writing? It all comes down to voice, realness, and specificity. 

If you don’t speak Queen’s English, don’t all of sudden go adding “thou shall bestow my undying love” bullshit in your vows. Write how you talk. After all, vows are meant to be spoken, and if you’re not honoring your natural vernacular when you write them, they’re going to feel a bit… soulless. On your wedding day, speak the way in which you would speak to your lover. Use pet names. Say “babe” if that’s what you do at home. Be the person your lover fell for, not a cardboard cutout marriage robot.

Realness in writing is essentially just speaking the damn truth. Bring real things that exist in your life into your vows — specific things.

Here’s a clip of what I did: “I promise even if we lose everything and end up with the bratty, endlessly screaming children, and I end up having to wear clip in hair extensions from Sally’s Beauty Supply, and you end up having to hack your own bangs, I’ll know that I won the goddamn lottery, because I get to be with Meghan Dziuma.”

Everyone knows how much I love my expensive hair extensions. Meghan is obsessed with her bangs being perfect. Those little personal touches make a MEGA, GIANT-sized difference. (Plus it makes it far less boring for your guests).

Tip #6: Say ’em out loud.

The key to editing, especially when it comes to speeches, is to take everything you’ve written and say it out loud! Whatever sounds repetitive or off or doesn’t land or sounds inauthentic, chop it!

Tip #8: Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. 

I’m going to get old-school acting teacher on you, because that’s my job in the duration of this essay.

The key to being comfortable while delivering your vows is to rehearse that shit again and again and again. I know it seems like an impossibly boring and laborious task, but this is one of the most important days of your life! Why on earth would you choose this, of all things, to be lazy about? (I wouldn’t be a good coach if I wasn’t tough on you).

Look, here’s the real tea: You’re going to be fucking nervous when you’re reading vows. Unless you’re a certifiable sociopath, you’re going to be trembling so intensely you might begin to fear that there’s an earthquake rumbling beneath you — only to realize the earthquake is you.

I have a theatre degree, and I was shaking in my high heels so ferociously I almost keeled over. But I was able to ground myself because I had done the work. If you have done the work (i.e. rehearsed), the words won’t feel so alien coming off of your shaky little tongue. The simple muscle memory of having repeated your vows again and again will kick in. You’ll feel confident the moment you start speaking, because these are not foreign words you’re reading off a paper. Nope — you’ve said them so many times that you’ve been saying them in your dreams for weeks.

I would suggest borderline memorizing them. Obviously, bring that sheet of paper up with you, as your trusty security blanket, but the more you can keep your eyes off the page, the better your delivery.

And if you flub a word — God forbid — the worst thing you can do is let yourself spiral down the shame hole. Make a joke out of it! Acknowledge that you’re nervous as hell and keep going.

But wait! This piece was supposed to be about writing vows, not delivering them, right? Let’s tackle that it another essay — shall we?

Happy vow writing! I hope my tips help. I will leave you with a final note: Write from the heart. Don’t overthink it. Fuck anything anyone has ever told you about writing vows; do it your way, because this is your fucking day. This is your fucking life now, babe.

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