How to be relatable in 3 easy steps.

Image: Antonino Visalli Unsplash

Do you ever feel so different from the norm that you crave being understood, relatable… normal?

Me too.

Over the years I’ve come to understand that wanting to be normal is normal. Psychologically speaking, we all want to belong (it’s an attachment thing).

And so, when we find celebrities or influencers or smart-educated-fashionable-apparently-wise people online, we tend to follow them because there is something about them that we aspire to be, have or know. And when we see lots of other people follow them too, we feel as if we’re part of a group of like-minded people.

We feel (a little more) normal.

These days, it’s normal to connect with strangers on social media via things we find important. Maybe it’s things we struggle with (weight, poor relationship choices, fashion sense, food preferences, etc.), or a shared sense of humor, or a sense that the person really cares for or about us, or even a shared vision or dream for the future.

“You speak such truth”

“I love your style”

“OMG I feel the same way

We follow, like and comment because we find these people relatable. Finding someone relatable makes us feel better about ourselves — kinda like we’re part of one, big, relatable family.

Being relatable is the first step in forming a relationship. If someone feels relatable, it is easier to feel they can be trusted, too. (Indeed, big dollars are spent on creating and protecting the relatable, trustworthy public personas for the famous people we know).

Which is a slippery slope for those who haven’t done the inner work necessary to support a public persona.

Because if you (publicly) break my trust? I can no longer relate.

We see the crash-and-burn of popular personalities happen often these days. People rising with meteoric speed (based on their carefully-crafted relatability), only to come crashing down because of a moment (or two) of poor boundaries, poor taste or simply poor judgement. In a matter of moments, social-media-famous people are no longer relatable or trustworthy.

Like what happened for the popular author, Rachel Hollis recently.

Now, I don’t agree with the swift-and-mighty-sword of public opinion. ‘Cancel culture’ is a feeding frenzy for people who themselves have a poorly developed sense of self and an inflated need to be seen as right, good or better. This shark-infested-waters analogy is a real fear for those who decide to put themselves out there, publicly. But it is a reality, and those who wish for fame are not always equipped to deal with what happens when you fall from public grace.

I’m not sure I would be prepared for that.

Listen, even though I’m basically a hermit with introvert-genes, I’m passionate about many things including feeling normal and relatable. Because being relatable means we can relate to each other. And if we can relate to each other, we kinda feel normal.

(See how that works?)

And without relationships, who are we? I mean, do we even exist except in ‘relation’ to someone else?

<this is some heavy, philosophical thinking from you Tanya… should we be concerned?>

Now, all of this brings me to my latest crash-and-burn you’re-so-not-relatable moment with my own teen girls (who like most teen girls crave the idea of being famous, but cringe at the idea of being judged).

A little background for todays #tuesdaystale is that when my girls were younger and we would be driving and listening to the radio, I started a tradition of what I fondly refer to as ‘Finger Dancing.’ Now, if you’re anything like me and have a slightly warped mind, you might think we were engaging in some sort of perverse pseudo-sexual act. But no. My right index finger would start just dancing along to whatever tune was playing… and the girls would quickly follow suit, giggling uncontrollably.

It was a great way to connect and break the boredom of a drive. And it was totally innocent (get your mind out of the gutter).

Anyway, the following conversation happened last week as we were driving home after a spontaneous girls-only dinner date. The radio was on and the girls were lost in their technology. So I started finger-dancing as a way to get their attention away from the ever-present screen (again, I realize this sounds MUCH more perverse than the reality — trust me).

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Girls! I’ve had the BEST idea for a new TikTok channel! ( bear in mind, I literally just created a TikTok account about five minutes ago so I could watch some of the videos they keep sending me).

Me: < noting a distinct lack of interest> Well, aren’t you going to ask me what it’s gonna be about?

Them: < sufficiently guilted into asking> Uhm, okay I guess… what is it going to be about mom?

Me: <ignoring their sarcastic tone> It’s gonna feature a finger. Just a finger. Dancing to TikTok songs. We could do it together <me giggling uncontrollably at the images rolling around in my head>

Them: Oh god mom.

Me: What? That doesn’t sound AWESOME to you? It would be sooooooo funny! <still laughing because at least I find myself funny>.

Me: You don’t want to do it with me? <incredulous>

Them: NO! OMG mom! What if someone ever found out that it was us… It would be SO EMBARRASSING!!!

Me: Seriously? WHO WOULD FIND OUT? Anyway, if it was such a success that someone wanted to find out, wouldn’t that be ok? <trying to appeal to their desire to be TikTok famous>

Me: Cringy? No way! And nobody would find out… Right? <pleading a little>

Them: We don’t want to do it. But you totally can. It sounds like a great idea… FOR YOU.

Apparently, my idea — and possibly my whole being — is not relatable for teens. Which is absolutely okay — I’m not trying to win a popularity contest, I’m trying to parent.

And secretly, I’m proud of them for having strong boundaries.

Okay… first I had to lick the wounds of my crushed ego, but then I felt pride.

“But this post is titled ‘How to be Relatable in 3 easy steps’ and you haven’t gotten to the point” I hear you say.

Hang tight.

Perhaps it wasn’t the best title, because it’s more of a wish-list than a formula. But if I had to narrow down what I personally look for in someone I find relatable, it comes down to these three things:

Be authentic

If you’re a nerd at heart, be a nerd publicly. There’s only one YOU, and the best way to be unique is to be 100% authentic — you can’t be duplicated.

Be truthful

Life is 99% unglamorous. If you attract people who are attracted to your glamor, they will be quick to pick you apart when you’re stepping outside of the 1% corner you’ve painted yourself into.

Be responsible

We all mess up. Own it. Every time. Vulnerability is hard to fake and even harder to criticize.

I frequently mess up and stray from my own ‘Relatability Wish-List’ as described above. But when I’m struggling, confused or in doubt I simply steer back to this list and it magically gets me back on track.

As a parent, I can’t teach what I don’t model. And as cringy, uncool and possibly un-normal as I am, being authentic, truthful and responsible will get myself and my girls through this thing called life — sometimes embarrassed, but always okay.

And I’m still open to being TikTok famous… a dancing finger is super-relatable, right?

How does being relatable factor into your life and relationships? I’d really love to hear.

Much love,

P.S. If you find any of todays tale relatable, I’d sure appreciate you sharing this post.

Originally published at https://www.tanyatinney.com on April 6, 2021.

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On a Lifelong Journey to share Dollops of Empowerment * Authenticity Advocate * Mom of Teens * #tuesdaystale Writer

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Tanya Tinney

Tanya Tinney

On a Lifelong Journey to share Dollops of Empowerment * Authenticity Advocate * Mom of Teens * #tuesdaystale Writer