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by David Truman

Too much investment in symbols can throw love off track.
Human beings have this CRAVING for symbols. Ring and garter, flower and baby shower -- such things become heralds of hope, love messengers in tangible form. But watch out for symbols of love, because too much investment in symbols can throw love off track.
There is nothing wrong with symbols, but by themselves they don't necessarily convey real value. It's the feeling behind the symbol that counts most -- and that can vary tremendously. When a man gives his wife flowers, he may be motivated by sincere devotion -- or by the fear that if he doesn't, he will be in big trouble. The same may apply to a woman's gifts of service to her husband: she could be truly heartfelt in serving him, or she could be going through the motions resentfully, to keep up appearances. What a difference! Symbols are properly used only when strong love accompanies them.
The substitute
Symbols become the PRIMARY form of exchange whenever our confidence in being able to give direct love, or our sense of deserving direct love, is low. If insecurity strikes in either form, just remember . . .
Symbolic happiness equals emotional starvation
Never give even a flower without giving love as well. Our fulfillment and the fulfillment of those we love depends on the real thing!
Symbols have a valuable place -- to communicate beautiful REALITIES. But in and of themselves, symbols of love are worth far less than the love they are meant to represent. For example, when someone says, "If you love me, you should pay me more attention," you might give them a house plant -- as a gesture of attention. But the plant does not GUARANTEE the attention it symbolizes. It might have been better to sit down for an hour and give your friend some DIRECT attention! Or at least, give the gift AND the attention.
How to handle a shortage of direct love in intimacy
If symbols seem overly important, we may have a love shortage in our lives. Courage is required to answer that question honestly. And, the more desperate we are to believe that things are fine, the more vulnerable we are to self-delusion. To accurately determine the "state of the heart," ignore the mind. The heart easily distinguishes symbol from substance.
Two signs of excess in symbolic relating are:
Chronic feelings of emptiness and disappointment
Insatiable demands for material gifts, behavioral accommodation ("Why don't you go hiking with me?"), or any other symbolic demonstration of love (affection, certain verbal expressions, etc.)
Without love, the heart is no happier than a fish out of water.
Never be lulled into complacency about a love-poor life, because even if symbolic "gifts" are given or received, they may represent little more than a booby prize. A woman might like to believe that she is happy BECAUSE someone has given her something she wanted: a job, some flowers -- some children, even. A man may be tempted to think he is happy because he got a new title at work or because a certain woman agreed to go on a date. But when it comes to love, we better not kid ourselves. The so-called happiness that some people wish for is little more than post-hypnotic suggestion: "I will be happy if I get _________." But the resulting flurries of glee and pride don't amount to real happiness: the heart needs direct love. A fish can THINK anything he wants about the situation, but no matter what he thinks, he can't be happy lying on a parking lot; he can't stop gasping for air.
Providing sound spiritual nutrition
No need to cut out the symbols -- just add back the love!
Better to exchange real love than to starve ourselves on a diet of symbols -- emotional junk food. An intimacy with too much symbolic accommodation is the emotional equivalent of a diet heavy on junk food. Because junk food lacks nutritive value, junk food addicts starve while overeating, and therefore develop insatiable appetites. Symbol addicts are similarly insatiable. How many times have you tried hard to please certain people, only to eventually realize, that no matter what you could possibly do, they would only cry, "More, more, more!"
If you or someone you love has become overly dependent upon the exchange of symbols, respond like a good mother whose child is addicted to junk food: improve the diet gradually. We need not shun symbols, nor judge a person who has confused them with love. We can continue to give and receive symbols, but make sure that the heart and soul are ALSO being fed. It's like sneaking vitamins into a milkshake. As the rich love enters the bloodstream, health will return, and you can reduce the symbols gradually.
This article warns about the limitations of exchanging symbols of love without sufficient real love behind them. But it also says, love CAN be effectively shared across time and space by using tangible gifts of love and service. For more information on the many ways to use physical objects and spaces as carriers of real love and life energy to our loved ones, see "The Heart and Soul of Giving"

by David Truman

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