By Nicolle

As a 7-year-old, I was in love with Barbies. I kept them pristine, all placed carefully on shelves, organized by my favorites and my least favorites, their accessories protected in labeled Ziploc baggies. I played with them only occasionally, so as not to mess up their hair, which I combed religiously.

One of my favorite scenes to play out with Barbie, her little sisters Stacie and Kelly and her boyfriend Ken, was the wedding of perfectly proportioned Barbie and chiseled-abs Ken. I had a pink, horse-drawn carriage that Barbie would ride up in, as Ken waited patiently at the small, cardboard-box altar. Stacie and Kelly would stroll down the aisle first, as bridesmaids, while the audience of more Barbies and Kens watched with bated breath.

At my young age, my knowledge of weddings was limited to what I’d seen on Disney movies or TV, and all I could remember were a few key lines. So when the time for the actual ceremony came, I began with “We are all gathered here today to see Barbie and Ken get married,” filled the middle in with “blah blah blah” and ended with “You may kiss the bride!”

Now, having graduated from the weddings of plastic dolls to the celebrations of some of my friends, that iconic part of a wedding ceremony has become one of my least favorite parts. Because of the high national divorce rate and the flowery language, traditional vows seem like mere words, repeated hollowly after the presiding minister because they’re the avenue for “I now pronounce you man and wife – you may kiss the bride!”

But, the vows should be the truest, most sincere part of the ceremony. Forget the Bible verses, the bride walking down the aisle, the exchanging of the rings. The vows should hold in them all the actual, covenantal promises a couple is making to one another. When the excitement of kissing the bride and presenting the couple as one overtakes the commitment present in the words of the vows, we’ve lost part of the reason for the celebration in the first place.

At the wedding of a friend of mine, the bride and groom wrote their own vows. Instead of borrowing even a few words from the traditional vows, they recited things to each other like, “I promise to vacuum and dust” or “I promise to cook dinner twice a week.” While mundane and simple-sounding, especially given the verbose, formal language used in traditional vows, their words took on practical meaning because they acknowledged that their life together will be lived in the nitty-gritty details of bills, cleaning, cooking and decision-making. They proclaimed in front of their friends and families that they weren’t just vaguely committing “til’ death do us part” or “in sickness and in health” – they were committing to being present and bonded in the average, mundane things of life.

Many times we don’t think about what the traditional vows even mean. Sure, they sound beautiful enough, and are broad enough to seem to encompass all aspects of life, but that broadness is exactly what makes them easy to break. What does “for richer or poorer” really mean when we break it down? We say it like we know, but we don’t usually acknowledge the depth of what it really means – and it could mean different things to different people. Does it mean we won’t worry about money? Does it imply that we won’t break up because of money? Does it mean we’ll be happy no matter what the financial situation?

Issues having to do with finances are one of the most common causes for strife, arguments and break-ups. As a couple, it’s hard to talk about money; it’s hard to agree on a financial plan. But if we’ve committed to each other with a for-richer-or-poorer mindset, how then do we justify the end of a relationship because of money issues?

It makes more sense if we think about how we might not understand the monetary mindset we’ve committed to when we recite that “for richer or poorer” mantra. But has it lost its meaning as we’ve heard it repeated thousands of times? Can we redefine or re-explain it so our cliché can regain its meaning? A friend recently proposed rewording the traditional money-centered vow to this: “We will not let money divide us, no matter if we have a lot or just a little.” Now that’s a serious commitment.

Instead of vowing to remain “for better or worse,” maybe we can vow to take the time to decipher what we really will remain in. Will we stay together, even through bankruptcy? Will we stick it out, even if a car accident completely paralyzes one of us? Will we confront each other (and be willing to listen when we’re confronted) about working too much? Will we turn towards each other when we don’t feel as happy or satisfied with our lives as we thought we would?

The practicality of life will sneak up on us whether or not we acknowledge it in our wedding vows. The question is whether or not we’ll be willing to admit that it’s more than “for better or worse.” And if we’re not, we can’t expect a marriage that’s any less plastic than my Barbie and Ken’s.