“When you love someone a lot, they just look like love.”

how to pick a reading for your wedding

Bill Hulseman
12 min readJul 19, 2022


A reading from the author’s wedding. Photo by Mike Olbinski.

One of my favorite aspects of designing a wedding ceremony is identifying and integrating texts. There’s no rule that a couple has to include any readings, but they can enhance the experience of a ceremony by providing a glimpse into a couple’s relationship, their values, and the world they want to live in. It’s also an easy way to manipulate the emotions of participants…er, rather, to calibrate the emotional engagement of a ceremony. Some readings inspire deep reflection, some just make people weep, and some add a welcome dose of levity and even laughter.

Unfortunately, most online sites that recommend readings for weddings rely on a narrow range of cliché texts about love and romance instead of offering tools for discernment. I can’t blame those sites or their contributors — as a society, we generally lack a capacity for reflection because we’re taught that reflection is basically quiet opinionating. I tend to approach reflection with guidance from the great John Dewey. As Carol Rodgers summarizes, for Dewey, there are four criteria for authentic reflection: reflection is a meaning-making process that moves us between and helps us see the connections between different experiences; it is a systematic, rigorous, disciplined way of thinking; it happens best in community and in interaction with others; and it requires attitudes that value holistic growth, including whole-heartedness, directness, open-mindedness, and responsibility.

It’s a little much to expect a couple to dive into Deweyan reflection as part of their preparation for marriage, so I’ve distilled and translated that approach into four criteria for couples to discern texts that will contribute to a ceremony that both reflects them, not just what the Wedding Industrial Complex has made available, and that will function well in a ceremony.

  • Criterion 1: The reading is accessible. It’s not too long, it doesn’t invoke too many big ideas or images, and it doesn’t mix metaphors. It relies on words that you understand, and it sounds good when read aloud.
  • Criterion 2: The reading is meaningful to you. Whether it’s a text you’ve pored over for decades or something you stumbled across last week, it speaks to you…