When I was asked by a close friend to officiate a wedding for the first time, I was terrified. How was I, a 31 year old who has never been married, supposed to speak wisely about love and commitment and trust?
Naturally, I sifted through dozens of officiant scripts and example speeches online, but they all left me cold. It wasn’t just that they were full of clichés that I knew would make the eyes of my audience members glaze over. It was also that they rang hollow and, to be honest, felt like an insult to my audience’s intelligence.
I’ve grown up in a generation that is incredibly cynical about marriage. We’ve all heard the stats about divorce rates and we all have friends that come from divorced families. So this was one situation where “time honored” words just felt trite and meaningless.
My fear was worsened by the intellectual makeup of the wedding party. The groom’s side were mostly engineers from Stanford, the bride’s side engineers from MIT. Not the type of people who would fall for vague, lovey-dovey soliloquies about love and marriage.
I knew this to be true first-hand, because in the months after my friend asked me, I paid close attention to officiant speeches in weddings I attended. In spite of my best efforts, I always zoned out. The bride and groom, Susan and Josh, are the most talented and amazing couple, and I wanted something more for them than bland platitudes. I wanted something that they would remember, and more importantly, I wanted something that they would use.
So I thought, while I may be massively unqualified to give advice about marriage, who more qualified to give advice than Dr. John Gottman and The Gottman Institute? I couldn’t think of a better way to get advice that was not only meaningful, but also practical and evidence-based enough to appeal to a room full of engineers.
I was thrilled to communicate with Michael Fulwiler at The Gottman Institute, to have a chance to tap into the Institute’s decades of research and clinical experience. In particular, one suggestion from Michael stood out: the six-second kiss.
I instantly knew it was perfect. The groom is the CEO of one of the fastest growing startups in Silicon Valley, and the bride is a key member of a startup herself. Although they are one of the most romantic and relationship-oriented couples I knew, they’d become so busy that, out of necessity, they’d started having the groom’s secretary plan their dates. I knew that the biggest challenge they’d face in the early years of their marriage would be finding time for each other.
But who can’t spare six seconds a day? In our hectic modern world, here was a simple ritual that even the busiest couple could easily adopt.
I made the “six-second kiss” the cornerstone of the advice portion of my speech, and noted that, “in fact, the end of this ceremony would be the perfect time to start practicing.”
It was a hit. If nothing else in my speech worked – and I’m really not sure anything else worked – I know this worked because when the ceremony came to a close, when I finally said those classic words, “You may kiss the bride,” I beamed as I heard the entire crowd in unison start counting: “1…2…3…4…5…6!” Just recounting that moment gives me a thrill – it fills me with such joy and delight.
After listening to officiant speeches that all went in one ear and out the other, I’d decided beforehand that it would be a major win if I could get people to remember anything from my speech. In that case, mission accomplished. Throughout the reception, whenever the beautiful couple would be induced to kiss by the guests’ clinking of glasses, the guests would all slowly count to six. I know for a fact that some of the couples “practiced” it later on, as well.
It just goes to show that making a big difference in a marriage doesn’t have to take a lot of time, it can in fact be very simple. And an officiant speech doesn’t have to be vague and cliché, it can in fact be very practical. I’m very grateful to Dr. Gottman, Michael Fulwiler, and The Gottman Institute for showing me this.