O promise me

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When it comes to wedding vows, everything old is new again

For ages, Western wedding vows were pretty much one-size-fits-all. The majority of couples recited a variation of the same covenant, “to love, honor and obey,” and “for richer, for poorer,” often tailored for ethnic and religious celebrations.

Back in the rule-breaking ’60s and ’70s, couples first began to dispense with boilerplate vows in favor of personal pledges that reflected their individualism. Today, while traditional vows have retained their luster and have even enjoyed a resurgence, personal and self-written vows are still commonplace. In all cases, the wedding ceremony symbolizes a promise to build a new life together.

“Dearly beloved …” The most familiar wedding vows, taken from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, begin with this pronouncement by the celebrant. The pledges that follow date all the way back to the 16th century – ironically the age of King Henry VIII, who took the vows often – and broke them with alacrity.

The words “to love and to serve, honor and keep, in sickness and in health, until death do us part” have stood the test of time for their lyrical simplicity (though many women nowadays balk at the word “obey” as being too patriarchal). In this case, you can’t go wrong by hewing to tradition, knowing the vows you utter are a continuation of a tradition held sacred by generations of lovers (with the notable exception of Henry VIII).

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