We all know the plot to Romeo and Juliet. Here’s a quick guide for those less literary among us: boy meets girl, they fall madly in love, they die for each other. It all could have been avoided.

It’s the greatest tragedy ever written, for some. Yet it’s also Shakespeare’s best love story. How’s that?

Love and tragedy?

They’re like the evil step sisters of any good fairy-tale. Ever present, serves a narrative purpose, inflicts lots of hurt and jealousy. Rinse and repeat. 

Okay so I’m not quite so cynical as all of that would indicate, but there is a difference between being madly in love, and being maddeningly in love.

The first is all about what you want from the other person and the hint of heaven that they offer you, and how you can achieve that. On the other hand, being maddeningly in love is compulsive. You are probably in more long term relationships that have seen the test of time and you still know where you stand with each other. More than that, though, the levels of intimacy have transcended all that you thought possible.

Physically, emotionally, symbolically and, yes, spiritually, even. You can watch an episode of Orange is the New Black together and not cringe or be awkward about the explicit bits. It’s one of those habits we develop with communal watching with the parents with that feeling of shame baked in that we never quite grow out of. Until these moments, of course.

Yes, being maddeningly in love is the real deal.

It’s great to be madly in love, but that’s maybe more a product of the short term honeymoon phase. It hasn’t yet necessarily proven itself against the toils and tribulations of, well, life and each other. As human beings, we’re all kind of a mess. But we know that and we move on. Mostly. 

When you are madly in love you want the world to know. You make it Facebook official and start tagging each other in memes to self indulgently demonstrate you love for each other. And clutter up everyone else’s Facebook feed in so doing. No I’m not bitter. Never! But the issue here, once you peel away the layers of saccharine-cute puppy videos, there’s not much to it. Less meaningful or lacking personal inside jokes – really just playing to the stereotype of what they think couples should be doing.

There’s nothing wrong with this stage – every relationship goes through it to get to the next stage. But those on the outside recognise that there is more depth to seek from one another than this stage of want. Particularly because it isn’t clear to each other necessarily what it actually is that the other wants. You may know broadly that you want to be loved, or exclusive, but who doesn’t?

With time and communication you approach the level of emotional maturity in relationships that reaches the threshold of being maddeningly in love.

When you are self sufficient and learn more about yourself every day and your own needs as they are met.

You learn more about the other person and as you accept them and all their flaws, self love becomes more effortless. If your favourite person has flaws which you adore, then that surely means it’s okay for you to have flaws too? Logically?

This is much more preferable to the stages of inarticulacy and anxious self-consciousness that heralds many relationships in their early stages. What’s happening, what are we, what are they thinking? These questions don’t no longer exist in long term relationships, they just tend to actually get answers. Because we ask, because we care. Simple as that. It’s not like people maddeningly in love shove it in your face with PDA or anything, it’s just in how comfortable they are with each other.

They know where they stand. They are at once self sufficient but also emotionally symbiotic. These people can exist alone well enough but they thrive together, and are arguably only really themselves when with each other. It sounds dramatic, but that is the goal of all relationships. Togetherness. Unity.

These couples might not be Facebook official as such, but they’re also probably married. So, that figures I guess.

Basically, when you’re madly in love – a few weeks in without really knowing each other – you will have followed all your partner’s friends on Instagram. When you’re maddeningly in love, you have already met the parents and got a dog. And yet, even though it seems like the domestic ideal, you still wake up every day and the first thought on your mind is them. They’re also likely the first thing you will see. Cuties. It’s basically the equivalent of Taylor Swift’s new bop ‘Lover’. No, I’m not listening to it as we speak. How dare you imply such a thing! (Side note: I’ve loved you three summers but honey, I want ‘em all….) I mean, she’s not wrong. 

Now, it sounds like I’m an old grandmother here talking about how it was in my day without technology and acting like the kids aren’t alright. I know that. But I never said that madly in love meant young, nor that maddeningly in love meant older people. Sometimes people just hit their relationship stride late, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t ready for the one when they’re 19. Just look at all the YA literature that begs to differ! Who doesn’t love a good old fashioned Twilight moment? No one? Just me? Righto.  

But anyway, as I write this in the throngs of Singleton, thinking back on all the relationships of past, present and romcom, I have a final statement.

The key difference between the two types of need and want in the relationship?

In the stages of needing each other you also come to realise that you need to prioritise yourself too. Probably even above the other person.

And they would agree and do the same. Ultimate maturity in relationships isn’t just getting married and committing to each other, it’s making sure that you are both communicating what you need.

For yourself and the relationship.

The trick to a happy and fulfilling, maddeningly loving relationship?

Know yourself as best you can. Know what you want. Find your person. And stick to it.

Don’t worry about the other people around you. They just haven’t heard the song yet.