By Zuhair Nasher
April 23, 2018

“Please be seated.”

The chatter that accompanied your march down the aisle fades to an almost palpable silence. Cell phones are put away, and all is still. One hundred of your closest friends and family members have traveled from around the world to be here, and now they sit together, rapt, their gaze fixed on the pair that stands before them. It’s your wedding day, and the ceremony is about to begin. How many times in your life will you command that kind of attention?

Yet after only a few minutes, the aura is pierced. Eyes wander, seats are shuffled, yawns are barely stifled. What gives?

Hard truth coming: they’ve heard it all before. Love is great…in sickness and in health…so long as you both shall live.

If you’re someone who has chosen to have a secular ceremony rather than one bound by a religious tradition, chances are you want it to reflect who you really are. The problem is, if you aren’t careful, the age-old axioms you often hear at weddings can seem less like timeless truths and more like stock references.

You spent tens of thousands of dollars to make sure everything was perfect, but the actual marriage ceremony—the part that the rest of the wedding was meant to celebrate—was the part you’ve invested in the least.

Who could blame you? Weddings are crazy expensive. The average American wedding costs $35,000, according to a 2016 survey by The Knot—nearly as much as the average 25- to 34-year-old’s yearly salary. Once you’ve paid for all the things everyone expects—music, food, and the nearly obligatory photo booth (it’s just too fun)—the ceremony presents an easy out.

Often the services of the officiant are included in the price of the venue (average cost: $16,000). If not, couples ask a close friend, counting on ease and familiarity over expertise. Since it’s easy to get a legal license, this option is increasingly common. But there are better ones.

There’s never been a love exactly like yours, and that makes you incomparable. As a licensed officiant, I often make it a point to remind the couple, and the entire congregation, that a wedding does not make a marriage. A marriage is a commitment whose value is beyond appraisal; a celebration of love and sincere intention that lasts far longer than even the most extravagant of parties. A couple should thoughtfully consider what it takes to achieve this and who they can trust to get right.

An experienced officiant can help with everything from writing your vows to picking readings to incorporating parts of your religious and cultural heritage that are meaningful to you. You don’t have to spend more; you just have to rethink how you slice the pie.

A bespoke ceremony by a licensed officiant usually starts around $500, though prices vary. An initial consultation may cost $50 to $100; including a rehearsal or other event can add another $100 to $200. (You should also expect to reimburse the officiant for travel costs, if any).

While many couples still find an officiant through word of mouth, listings such as weddingwire.com or Yelp can help expand your reach. And every officiant should have at least a basic personal website so that you can get a sense of who they are and how they communicate. Sweating the details early on means less to worry about when it matters most.

It’s worth it. People will remember how they felt a lot longer than what they saw, or what they ate. And judging by most wedding food, that’s a blessing in itself.

Zuhair Nasher is a licensed marriage officiant based in New York City. His website is www.wordsthatlast.com.

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