In a few hours, Alissa and I will make some life-long promises to each other. As a lead-up to the big moment, I thought I'd share some backstory about our vow-writing.
(side-note: we realized yesterday during rehearsal that we never say the literal words "I do" anywhere in the service - hopefully the marriage will still be valid anyway!)
A couple months ago, I reached out to a long lost friend to ask her about a phrase I remember she and her wife had used in their vows. It was something to the effect of "until one of us breathes no more", and the specific way they had phrased it I remember thinking at the time was particularly beautiful, and so I wanted to plagiarize that one sentence in my own vow. Kathryn, who has always been wiser than I, took a few days to ponder my request, and then responded she was choosing to decline sending me that sentence. Instead, she encouraged me and Alissa to do something like what she and her wife had done in their own vow-writing process: visit a coffee shop, and while sitting on opposite sides of the room, contemplate what exactly they were wanting to promise each other, what was important in their relationship. Then after a while (an hour? more? depends on the couple), they came together and, in their case, merged their thoughts into one vow that they would both read.
Alissa and I liked this idea, and so we did our own version of it a week or two ago (though instead of combining, we are each reading our own unique vow). Alissa had written her first draft some months earlier on a sleepless night, but for me this was my first shot really focusing on what I thought I might say. Sitting in Dunn Brothers (they had buy-one-get-one-free that night, so Alissa got a black bitter water and I got something tasty), I went through numerous notes accumulated over years of attending weddings.
Sadly, the promise "I will never leave you in a zombiepocalypse" didn't make it into my final draft, nor did any Taylor Swift lyrics. I also couldn't find a place for my favorite quote from Boy Meets World: "I do my thing and you do your thing. You are you and I am I. And if in the end we end up together, it's beautiful."
At the end of writing, I think my only plagiarism was a phrase lifted from my friend Kayla's vows: "I promise to communicate with you and always work on improving our communication. I promise to listen well and actively." Since communication is something Alissa and I discuss frequently, this seemed fitting.
The rest of my words were largely "Jeremy-isms," such as love being a choice, and my long-held believe that saying "I love you" also means acknowledging, "I will eventually cause you hurt." I also included a generic, though I think poignant, line about holding each others' hands in the doctor's office. Neither of us is sick right now, so it's not anything to panic about. But it comes from this story: years ago, as I prayed to God about a different relationship, I had a mental vision of the woman I loved coming home to me from a doctor's appointment, looking me in the eye, and me instantly knowing without her saying any words, that the test had come back as cancer. God asked me, "if this were to happen, would you love her and care for her even through that journey?" I've always held that in the back of my mind as one of my definitions of "love." And so the doctor's office in my vow may be referencing that, or it may be if we need to visit a fertility clinic for either one of us, or it may be me getting my next colonoscopy (coming up in February/March, oh yay :/ ), or who knows what. As I said it's generic, but for me, powerful in that generality.
The other big one for me is a single word I tucked into this phrase: "I promise I will be yours alone, faithful to you physically, visually, and emotionally." When hearing the word "affair" most people probably assume a physical affair, though in recent years I would say our society has become more open to acknowledging such a thing as an emotional affair, as well, even if it never becomes physical. Going beyond these two, it was as important to me to promise Alissa I would not have an affair with my eyes, either. Like most human males, my sexuality is turned on by visual stimuli, and I live in a culture where it is very difficult to avoid hyper-sexualized print-advertisements, television, movies, etc. Thinking back to a book I read years ago called "Every Man's Battle" (at least, I think that was the book; might have been "Every Man's Marriage" in the same series), the authors discuss "bouncing the eyes" away from provocative ads - as they allege, this "starves" the mind of any sexual arousal other than one's wife, which in turn makes her even more attractive because your mind isn't caught up comparing her to billboard and magazine models. Alissa and I have had some good conversations around this point, but even if we'd never discussed it, I would still have wanted to include the promise in my public declaration.
And lastly, on a less-heavy note, there are a few light-hearted "laugh points" as I call them. For example, "I promise I will try to solve all your problems, and then afterward remember that sometimes you need me just to listen instead of act." If you happen to read this blog post pre-wedding, you have my permission and encouragement to laugh/chuckle/giggle/make a random noise at that point during the vows, because while it is truth, it's also meant to be amusing.
Love is an emotion, and love is a choice. I have told you I love you in my heart; today I promise to choose to love you every day.
Love is a double edged sword, because saying “I love you” is also promising “I will say and do things that hurt you.” I will make selfish decisions, and we will have fights. Knowing I cannot promise we will have a strife-free relationship, I will instead promise to be there every time to work through the conflict and hurt.
I promise to communicate with you, and to work continually on improving our communication. I promise to listen well and actively. I promise I will try to solve all your problems, and then afterward remember that sometimes you need me just to listen instead of act.
I promise to learn how to make you coffee, to wake you up on mundane days. I promise I will have fun with you, to bring joy into our adventure together. I promise to be your cheerleader when you feel overwhelmed by your career, graduate schooling, or life’s unpredictable doses of chaos. I promise to hold your hand in the doctor’s office while we wait for test results. I promise to respect you and cherish you. I promise I will be yours alone, faithful to you physically, visually, and emotionally. And I promise to encourage you, and challenge you to grow, in your faith walk and relationship with God.
These promises I make from this breath forward, until one of us breathes our last.