On The Same Page

Posted January 28th, 2010

A great deal is made about the wedding vows.

As an erstwhile Episcopalian, I find the words from the 1662 Church of England Book of Common Prayer poetic. There is something very satisfying in that grand finale: “With this Ring I thee wed, with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” It’s charming that a man should give a woman everything he has; it’s divine that a husband should with his Body his wife worship.

Should not, however, she reciprocate?

Symmetrical and precise reciprocity has not always been a feature of the marriage contract. Consider the wedding ring, for instance. The modern wedding band sported by a woman harks to antiquity and the much larger circlet containing the household keys that a Roman bride received after she crossed the threshold of her new home. Seventeenth-century Puritans maligned the wedding ring for its pagan associations and ostentation, calling it “a relique of popery and a diabolical circle for the devil to dance in.” The placement of the ring on the left hand, some say, is a reference to the submission of the wife to her husband in all things.

Until fairly recently—about midway through the twentieth century, only the wife wore a wedding ring. It occurred to the American jewelry business in the late nineteenth century that a double-ring ceremony represented twice the profits. Good marketing strategies, a growing economy and the longing of soldiers during World War II for their wives back home made wedding bands a common sight on men’s hands.

But I digress. I was thinking about vows.

It is fashionable to write one’s own vows. The bride and groom decide what they will say to each other, how they will express the depth of their love and their vision of a future together. Such vows are often heard for the very first time at the altar. I sometimes wonder if either person is thinking, “What the heck is that supposed to mean?” as the words are recited (or furtively read from a note card).

No, pouring my heart out in front of the assembled family is just not for me.

The Clerk of the Circuit Court who will do the deed for us on February 6 sent us a copy of the standard-issue “civil marriage ceremony.” We were not obligated to use it in that form, he assured us. We could add prayers or poems or change the wording to suit ourselves. All he wanted was a little advance notice if he needed to read unfamiliar words.

My Dear One was discomfited by the text. It was very similar to the service at his first wedding, and those promises were not ones he had been able to keep. I agreed with him, and for the same reasons. The language, moreover, didn’t seem quite right for us. It didn’t seem to articulate the meaning of this marriage between people of a certain age, whose children emerged from different relationships, and whose partnership goes back twenty-five years. We were not the least desirous of vows that were, shall we say, unique; rather we wanted a simpler more direct delineation of our reality.

My Dear One handed the copy back and suggested I poke around on the Internet for something better. I did but I didn’t find anything. There was nothing out there that wasn’t too cloying, too religious or too clueless.

“We are gathered together in the presence of these witnesses…” No we aren’t. We are gathered at our home. That was a better start.

“Do you take this woman…” I hope not, and I don’t want to take him. That sounds so aggressive. We intend to marry, that’s all. Okay, we’ll say that.

What do we want to commit to? Love certainly. We will love and honor each other, meet the challenges and celebrate the joys of life with each other, be faithful and accept both families as our own. That seems to cover it.

Despite the fact my Dear One will never wear it, I bought a ring so I could give it to him, and he was happy to let me do so. Neither of us needs instruction to find the targeted finger and somehow “with this ring, I thee wed” sounds like the title of a pop song. Oh, right, it is the title of a pop song. However much we both like The Platters, though, there has to be a better phrase.

There is. “I give this ring as a pledge of my love and faith in you.”

One or two tweaks and we were done.

In this, at least, we’re on the same page.


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