There’s nothing more beautiful than being able to marry the love of your life, and the wedding ceremony is where all of the magic happens: Your relationship becomes official! However, while celebratory and powerful, a wedding ceremony is not a one-size-fits-all practice.
A traditional ceremony is perfect for some, but many couples are choosing to shake up tradition by replacing classic wedding vows or readings with personalized ones that better reflect their relationship. This is particularly true for some LGBTQIA+ couples, such as the newlyweds we interviewed below, who find that traditional vows and readings are outdated and full of gendered language that, perhaps, doesn’t reflect the true nature or values of their relationship.
How to Personalize Your Ceremony
Meet the Expert
Tanya Pushkine is an officiant, vow coach, ceremony planner, and founder of The Vow Whisperer.
Pushkine shares that writing your own vows or choosing your own readings are some of the best ways to make your ceremony more intimate, authentic, and memorable because both invite friends and family to partake in your special love story. “It completely changes the atmosphere and vibe of the ceremony,” she explains. “It allows guests to be a part of such a special moment in the storytelling of the couple.”
With personal vows and readings, you’re also able to express your feelings for one another and reveal the depth of your relationship in front of friends and family, who will connect with you on a deeper level. “You want everyone to walk away from the ceremony, not only saying it was the most beautiful, poignant, and memorable ceremony they’ve ever been to but to also say, ‘Wow, that was so them,’” she illuminates.
You want everyone to walk away from the ceremony not only saying it was the most beautiful, poignant, and memorable ceremony they’ve ever been to but to also say, ‘Wow, that was so them.'
For some of the best tips and tricks on how to tell your story and provide insight into your relationship, Pushkine advises that you reflect on the “why” behind your marriage. Ask yourself questions, such as, Why do you love this person so much? How has this person made you a better person? What can you do to encourage their dreams in the future? The answers to these questions will help you dig deeper, so you can find the words that capture your feelings.
Writing your own vows or finding quotes, books, movies, or songs that speak to you can certainly be a lot of pressure. So, for some inspiration to help you get started, here are personalized and meaningful vow exchanges and ceremony ideas from real couples.
Derek and Jake: Updated Blessings
When planning their modern ceremony, Derek and Jake knew they wanted to honor Jewish tradition but decided to put their own unique spin on the religious ritual to "better represent their relationship." “We wanted the ceremony to feel as personal as possible, and we both felt the vows were one of the crucial elements that make a ceremony meaningful,” the couple explains.
To accomplish this, they modified and rewrote the Jewish seven blessings and wove their vows into them. So, after the rabbi stated each blessing, the pair took turns delivering a vow to one another. “We updated the blessings ourselves, so the blessings being bestowed on us were extremely relevant to the life we wanted to live together,” Derek and Jake share.
Although the duo wrote their vows separately, they each brought up the phrase “1+1=3,” which became the motto of the wedding weekend. “I was always looking for a relationship where the joint entity is greater than the sum of either part, something Derek very much does,” Jake says.
Derek: It’s no secret that we’re opposites, and it’s why we work so well. When we discovered this many years ago, the phrase that has stuck in my head is ‘1+1=3.’ For those of you confused on the math, it’s really quite simple. The two of us together make something so much greater than each of us alone. I promise to never stop learning from you, challenging you, and loving you. You are my best friend.”
Jake: “Derek, how did I get so lucky? I must’ve done something right at some point to find someone as special as you, who puts up with all of my quirks and anxieties and unending lists, and yet, somehow, through it all, loves me all the more each and every day, who makes me feel comfortable with who I am, and who challenges me to step out of my comfort zone, and you’re always there to support me through it all. Your love is unlike any I have ever experienced. It’s warm. It’s real. It’s unquestionable. I promise to always love you the same in return, to make sure you know the deepness of my love, my admiration, my appreciation, my indescribable awe for you each and every day of your life.”
Ashley and Becca: Heartfelt Vows
For the most part, Ashley and Becca kept their wedding ceremony pretty traditional. But, when it came to the vow exchange, they knew they wanted to write their own to make the ceremony more personal, heartfelt, and humorous. They also wanted to make sure the promises they were keeping to one another were realistic. “We both had a moment one day where we realized a lot of traditional wedding vows just aren’t real,” Ashley reveals. “There are going to be sticky days and fun days and messy days. We’re not perfect, and we wanted our vows to reflect our flaws as well as our strengths.”
To make sure her vows were prepared well in advance, Ashley jotted down notes in her phone whenever something struck or inspired her. Overall, reflecting on her relationship with Becca made the writing process seamless. “We are best friends, and everything is more fun together, so it was easy to channel that sincerity and playfulness into our vows,” she adds.
Ashley: I promise to listen to your advice and occasionally take it. I promise to TRY to keep the nagging to a minimum, even if I’m right. I promise to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ more and admit when I’m wrong. I promise to always keep the freezer stocked with ice cream, even if our thighs say, ‘please don’t.’ I promise to listen to your dreams and do everything in my power to make them a reality. I promise to always give you the biggest, the best, and the last piece. I promise to REALLY listen, even if what you’re saying is boring. I promise to take more time to dance in the kitchen, even when I’m being ‘Chef Ashley.’ I promise to make an effort to better myself every day for the sake of both of us. I promise to wait an extra 10 seconds before I ask you to stop humming. I promise to always love you, respect you, and never keep score. You are the light to my dark, my adventure buddy, and my partner in actual crimes. Every day from here on out, I look forward to getting old, fat, and disgusting with you.”
Becca: "I promise to make the coffee every morning and be the big spoon every night. I promise to give you your space when you need it, even when it drives me crazy. I promise to try to say, ‘I’m sorry, that sucks,’ instead of trying to fix it. I promise to not impose the tickle tax too often. I promise to keep my temper in check. I promise to care for my step-dog as my own and to not be jealous of y’all’s creepy relationship. I promise to try and realize when I’m grumpy rather than you having to tell me I am. I promise to be as patient as humanly possible. I promise to try to be my best self, even on my worst days. I promise to always be working on a better us and to never give up. But most importantly, I promise to love you with everything that I am, to be the light in your dark, your very best adventure buddy forever.”
Adrian and Darren: A Personal Poem
When Adrian and Darren had their legal wedding ceremony in the United States, they used traditional vows, but at their summer camp wedding in Canada, they made sure personal vows were the main focus. “It was really important for us to make them the emotional heart and soul of our ceremony,” Darren explains.
One morning, a few months before the wedding, Adrian saw Darren sleeping peacefully in bed, and inspiration to write his vows struck. “A feeling just came over me, and I knew I had to write,” Adrian reflects. He was moved by “the simplicity of just waking up in the morning next to the person you love.”
Meanwhile, Darren says he waited for the right words to come for months, but nothing came to him until the night before the wedding. He decided to put his thoughts to paper on the morning of the wedding while sitting beside the lake. “Words tumbled onto the page in full paragraphs as a poem emerged, fermented by time, and shaped by the heightened emotions of the week leading up to our wedding,” he recalls.
Adrian: "How does one express in words the totality and enormity of what love is and what love feels like when you’ve met a match in one’s life?
There you were, at a Kentucky Derby party dressed to the nines. You fascinated me from the moment I met you. You captured the entire room. And you were hard to pin down. Despite thinking that we would never happen because we were so different, I listened to a good friend who told me ‘Every creative needs an analyst, and every analyst needs their creative.’ And it was at that next date and in San Francisco, I fell in love with you.
Darren, somehow all of the missing pieces I felt were no longer with you. Complete is not the right word but full. I feel full. I feel like we, together, can accomplish anything in this world. That we can take on anything in this world. That we will have the most wonderful family and children and happiness. And that we, independent of each other, are still interesting and have the freedom to explore our individualities for life.
Darren, I love you from the deepest part of my soul. I love the beauty you have brought into my life. I love your determination to make me let go, to see, to enjoy, to be in that beauty and be only concerned with that beauty.
And I promise to always be there, just be there, to listen, to consider your feelings, to live in your pain, to share in your joy, to comfort you in your darkest moments, to just figure things out, and to have the faith that we will always just figure things out."
Darren: "I love you most in the quiet times;
Smooth skin on linen,
Lashes past half mast.
Wide eyed, I take the cup and drink you in.
A communion of souls, of hope, of peace and security.
Our toes touch, and there's a rush of blush from my chest to my cheeks, and my third eye spies a vision of perfection, and that's when I know.
I love you most in the glad times;
Broad grin from the chagrin of verbal badminton.
Our jokes find a welcome host in each other while the light catches your eye after a sly reply.
Your laughter is a balm for what's going on but your snicker is quicker.
And when you have me on the ropes after a roast, my queen takes your rook with a look.
Another one for the record book, and that's when I know.
I love you most in the tough times;
Your hand in the small of my back after a verbal attack.
Your cool head after a watershed of tears made by fears of years ago.
Your acceptance of my repentance tempers the timbers of our home to stand long against the threat of time and regret.
And when our plans understandably falter, you set down the salt and bind our bruises with a bandage of kisses, and that's when I know.
I know that I will love you imperfectly and passionately with every piece of my broken heart, stitched back together by your patient and tender care.
I know that meeting you is the best thing to ever come from drinking all of the mint juleps at a Kentucky Derby party.
I know that from this day forward, whatever challenges may arise will be met with you by my side because you love me. I love you. We share love. You did, I do, we are; you, I, we.”
Caroline and Courtney: Religious Readings
Even though Caroline and Courtney kept the traditional marriage vows, they decided to personalize their ceremony by choosing bible readings and a poem that spoke to them as a couple. For their first reading, Caroline selected Song of Solomon to inspire a strong foundation for her marriage to Courtney. “I enjoy the passion and drama of the reading and the message that love is a flame that can withstand anything,” Caroline divulges.
Their second reading was 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 because the passage omits specific genders, which is more inclusive and representative of their relationship. “This has a strong biblical message of acceptance of all marriages, so it was important to us to include this passage in our wedding,” Caroline discloses.
Courtney chose Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith for the poem because it captures the allure and magic of a romantic relationship. “Couples reveal parts to each other and discover in each other the beauty they didn’t know existed,” she says.
From Wild Awake: “People are like cities: We all have alleys and gardens and secret rooftops and places where daisies sprout between the sidewalk cracks, but most of the time, all we let each other see is a postcard glimpse of a skyline or a polished square. Love lets you find those hidden places in another person, even the ones they didn’t know were there, even the ones they wouldn’t have thought to call beautiful themselves.”
Ryan and Sumi: New Traditions
In the midst of the pandemic, Ryan and Sumi tied the knot at their backyard mini-mony, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to recite their own vows. “Being a same-sex couple, and with the pandemic raging, it felt like the right time to create traditions of our own,” Ryan states. The couple also agreed that the traditional wedding vows didn’t translate to their relationship.
Well before the wedding, Ryan would type notes into his phone whenever a vow idea popped into his head, and he finalized the list right before the ceremony. On the other hand, Sumi decided to brainstorm his list in one sitting, and he made sure to grasp the words themselves in addition to the emotional element. “I sat down with a glass of wine and went down memory lane,” Sumi admits. “Then, I wrote down every single thing I was feeling at that moment.”
Ryan: “First off, this is bulleted, so we can discuss this later, but everyone knows I’m in bullet form. When I started writing this, the one word that kept coming to mind was ‘improbable.’ Because like you said, you’re from Texas, I’m from Manila. You talk so lovingly about how you drove your Maxima, I failed my permit exam, and I still can’t drive. But, we both are really the same in the sense that we knew we were different. We left our homes and our families to come to New York because there’s a dream we wanted to pursue, and there, we created a family of friends, and we also navigated that crazy dating scene. And somehow, we met each other at Anfora in the West Village, and as you said, we were inseparable. We found a way.
Despite everything through this year, we’re now celebrating here in the Hamptons and online. The last few months have been crazy because nothing’s been the same, not just for us but for everybody. I still remember when you looked at me when I came home with bags and bags of supplies, thinking the world was going to end, and then, all of a sudden, some of the supplies we actually had to use. I love when you joke when we’re eating outside and an MTA bus just rushes by us and you say, ‘outdoor dining.’ And I’ll never forget the walk in the depths of what was happening when we walked all the way down to Soho and it was just us.
Fast forward, and we’re now surrounded here and across borders by joy, bringing celebration to some crazy, crazy times. And I think about the crazy times, not in the sense that we lived through them or how painful they are, but that’s when we really knew that we were meant to be together because if we can get through it, it’s meant to be. Again, I think to myself: We found a way.
I look at my grandparents, our families, and our friends, and I make that promise that I’ll be your best friend, your fiercest protector, and your husband. You and I finding each other seems so improbable, but looking at you now about to be my one and only, improbable really feels like the possible. We found a way because, ultimately, I believe and I have faith that love always finds a way.”
Sumi: "Ryan, from the time we met, we’ve been inseparable. Our first date was on a Wednesday. Then, we saw each other again on Friday, then Sunday, and into Monday. There’s a connection between us that I can’t explain. And three years later, that connection has only gotten stronger. When I’m with you, I feel like a stray puzzle piece that’s finally found its home. With you, I just belong.
I can’t say whether it was by chance or by fate that we met. But one day, you – a Filipino guy from L.A. – and I – an Indian guy from Texas – swiped the same way on the same app and found one another and dropped into each other's lives. There were no fireworks. No angels descended from the heavens to light our way, but from the moment we met, our lives were forever changed.
Today, as we move from roommates and best friends to life partners and husbands, I just want to tell you that you are my entire world. You are my chosen family, my better half, and my home. It’s my absolute privilege to be able to walk beside you for the rest of our days. And I want to spend our journey together, proving every single step of the way that I’m worthy of your love. I love you, forever and always.”
Allison and Kate: Forever Promises
For their warehouse wedding, it was really important that Allison and Kate wrote their own wedding vows, so they could capture and preserve their values. “We wanted to be able to reread those vows to each other every year and think back to our wedding day when we made them,” Allison says.
When it came to writing their vows, they decided to tackle the task together since marriage is all about teamwork. The pair sat down to brainstorm everything they wanted in their lifelong relationship, and they used those themes to inform their vows.
They kept their vow exchange short and sweet in front of friends and family, but they reserved more detailed and personal vows for their first look, where they wrote heartfelt letters to one another.
“I vow to be your biggest fan and your best friend, To learn together and to love together, To embark on every adventure together, And to celebrate with you as my wife. In the storybook of our lives, Here is the chapter where I say to you, And we lived happily ever after.”
Meaghan and Kiyomi: Words From the Heart
For their wedding at Whitney Houston’s former estate, Meaghan and Kiyomi abandoned tradition and wrote more personal vows, so they could share something meaningful with each other and their loved ones. They started the process by doing some preliminary research online, but nothing struck a chord. “Eventually, as we sat with ourselves, we each found the words we wanted to say and more,” they say.
While sitting on the dock at her lake house in Canada the summer before the wedding, Kiyomi was able to use her peaceful surroundings to unlock her creativity. “The silence always grants me a creative outlet, and my vows took shape right then and there,” she shares. Meaghan, meanwhile, wrote her vows at the start of her wedding week. “I am a great procrastinator, so it took until the last moment to finally sit down and calmly think about what I wanted to share in my vows,” she remarks.
“Similar to the yin-yang, though opposite in nature, its components are complementary: Neither is superior, and one cannot exist without the other. The key to this existence and to our marriage is balanced energy. Together, you and I will live in harmony because we have found each other. You’re the yin to my yang. Let us always remember, we are not meant to be perfect, we are meant to be whole. We will have long, hard days, but we will never have them alone.”