So you want to get married. Maybe you've been planning this your entire life and know every detail by heart--right down to the color of the petals the flower girl plans to throw. More likely, though, you find yourself faced with a series of precise decisions that seem at once all-important and absolutely irrelevant. Never before has the font of an invitation meant so much. Suddenly flowers, colors, and fabrics all have profound meanings. You are overwhelmed.

First of all, let me say that your wedding doesn't have to be any more complicated than you want it to be. If the thought of hundreds of guests and orchestrated dove releasings, champagne fountains and personalized reception favors sounds like too much, you aren't alone.

More and more frequently, couples are choosing to get married in smaller, more intimate settings with a limited number of guests and hassles. While dozens of roses and elaborate ball gowns and engraved invitations are lovely, they are also expensive and unnecessary. What is imporant is that the ceremony has meaning for you. What better way to personalize your wedding than by writing your own vows?

In case you need a few suggestions:

  • Meet with the authority who will be conducting the ceremony.
    Some religions prohibit the use of outside vows or certain types of language. It is important to find a celebrant who will respect and support your wishes. Furthermore, some celebrants will be more flexible than others in the amount of freedom they allow you over the ceremony.

  • Research other people's wedding vows for inspiration.
    Hop on the web, ask friends and family, talk to your chaplain, look in wedding magazines and your favorite books, songs and poetry. Find ideas and language you like and work from there. This will help you to get a feel for the process as well as your personal tastes.

  • Brainstorm, talk it out, and work with your partner.
    Bounce ideas off of each other. Talk about the promises you want to make, what marriage and love mean to you, how you fell in love or what you feel makes your relationship strong. Map out what you think is essential to the vows. For example, if your marriage is a religious ceremony you should include spiritual language at some point.

  • Vow for the ages.
    Making false promises, using slang or trendy references will date your vows. Try to stick to language that is accurate of your feelings over time, not just for the moment. Marriage is meant to last a long time, and your vows should reflect that.

    You should be particularly interested in your audience at this point. While it's your day, your vows are addressed just as much to the witnesses as they are to your partner, so avoid inside jokes and any potentially offensive material. Also, make your language as clear and concise as it is beautiful. Vows, while representing complex emotions, should be simple for the sake of the ceremony.

  • Edit, rehearse, practice, revise.
    While spontaneity is a wonderful thing, writing your vows on a cocktail napkin five minutes before the ceremony isn't as charming as it might seem. Take your time with this; it's a labour of love. Side note: keep more than one copy of your vows somewhere safe. I know a girl who had to rewrite an entire wedding ceremony because she hadn't bothered to back up her files.

  • Slow down, breathe deeply and laugh at yourself.

    Relax. It's not about the wedding; it's about the marriage, anyway! So if you skip a line or fumble a few words it's all in the spirit of marriage, something that you won't get right without a few errors now and then.