How a Sewing Machine Became a Metaphor and How Adult Loneliness is Especially Sucky
Hello friends. It is with deep gratitude, excitement, and joy that I introduce you to our in real life (or as the cools kids are calling it, "IRL) friend Anna Greeno. Here are a few fun facts about Anna: she is a former Chicago Bulls cheerleader, Disney Princess, makeup artist, and musical theater performer. She is a mom to three boys, wife to one Ben, and lover of all things tiny. Although she has three boys, she finds ways to distribute her inner glitter and femininity...seriously, I don't think my daughter has ever made contact with Anna and NOT come back betwix or bedazzled. Anna is hilarious, but also open about the hard stuff too like raising kids, mental health, faith, marriage and Starbucks marketing faux pas. Anna is also a writer and I'm so glad she shares this gift with the world. Whether it's simple Instagram caption that leaves you in stitches, or a funny + thought-provoking piece like this, she has a gift with words, and we hope you enjoy this piece as much as we do.
You can find Anna on Medium, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Modern-day loneliness is so fascinating. In a day and age where we’ve never been more connected via social media, the internet, cell phones, etc., I’ve never known more people to express how alone they actually feel. Unlike the in-person friendships that were the ONLY option just a handful of years ago, we now seem to rely on every other form of conversing (besides actually talking!) to interact with one another. Not that any of those ways of communicating are bad; in the spirit of transparency, sometimes my husband and I have to text one another from different bathrooms because it’s the only way we can have private conversations away from the eyes, ears, and sticky little digits of our tiny humans. Believe me when I say I am SO grateful for the multitude of communication options. But on their own, I don’t know if they quite cut it.
Something incredibly important is still missing from the “friendship” equation. I think we forget that the way we make friends and get to know one another as actual adults is DRAMATICALLY different than how we did as children and adolescents. As children, we are connected by a series of simple action/reaction chains:
Child One: I wish to play.
Child Two: I, too, wish to play.
Child One: Let us play together.
BAM. Best friends. And in general, most childhood (and even adolescent) relationships are founded on that common thread: do you want what I want? Do you like what I like? Circle Yes or No.
The most basic question of, “What do you have to offer me, and does what I have to offer sound ok?” is almost always the foundation of any friendship. When the answers are mutually beneficial for each person, relationships develop.
But as we get older, as we experience life, that question becomes more complex. Our story starts to have weight. We have a history of why we offer (or DON’T offer) certain things to the world. We question if anyone will even want what we do have, and finding people who align with what WE are looking for gets harder.
Most kids don’t have a “story”. They don’t have a “history”- they have existed long enough to know if they do or do not like carrots, and whether they are Team Elmo or Team Mickey Mouse. Conversely, adults have a history of why we do (or DON’T) offer certain things to the world. We question if anyone will even want what we do offer, and finding people to align with gets harder.
And that’s why I think adult loneliness is SO HARD. Because as adults, even though the WHAT is still important— what we do, what we like, etc.— WHO we are at our core and WHY we are the way we are is what allows friendships to grow and flourish. Knowing someone’s history— their story— is what creates lasting bonds; but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen overnight.
My husband Ben and I were both born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago in tightly-knit families. Neither one of us grew up living near extended family, though, so raising our three boys near their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins was hugely important to us. But in September of 2015, Ben and I packed up our 3 boys- Max was newly 5, Jack was 2.5 and baby Jett had just turned 4 months old- and headed West to plant new roots in Colorado. It felt (and still sometimes feels!) insane, but for a million different reasons we knew it was exactly what we were supposed to. And honestly, it was exciting. Initially, the extrovert in me was on a high from the new experiences and meeting new people for a good 4-6 weeks. But almost overnight, it all came crashing down. I’d started to physically ache in a way I had never experienced before, and I had no clue how to “fix” it.
About a month before Christmas, a new friend sent out a Facebook SOS requesting help with sewing for her small hair bow business. I don’t think I’ve ever raised my internet hand so fast. “I can sew! And I totally love tiny hair bows. And friends. Will you be my friend if I sew your tiny bows really good?” Ok, so I didn’t say that last part, but I00% thought it.
I was in that weird spot where the adrenaline and adventure of having recently moved had worn off. The shiny excitement of new friendships was giving way to them moving back into their normal routines, and by no fault of their own, I wasn’t always part of that rhythm. I always felt so needy— we had no family, no network of babysitters, no long-standing village, etc. As the new girl, I was so lost. So to finally be able to OFFER something to someone felt amazing. And this girl was SO. COOL. I so badly wanted to be her friend, and as far as I was concerned, this was my way in.
A few days later, I got my assignment and headed home, certain I would finish this in record time with such exceptional craftsmanship that she couldn’t help but want to be my friend (Seriously. How ridiculous do I sound?!).
I got home and went to search for my sewing machine amongst one of the many boxes that had yet to be unpacked (Don’t judge. It had been a long 6 weeks.). When I finally found it, my heart sank. It was in shambles- a nasty reminder of the absolute nightmare that was the moving process from Chicago to Boulder (that’s a story for another time, though, over a glass or 6 of wine). After silently cursing the moving company, I got my little machine out and took it upstairs, talking to it gently as if I could somehow convince it to work with my kind and loving encouragement.
My kindness must have done the trick because the machine still worked! So away I went, sewing straight lines directly into the heart of my new friend. But just as quickly as it had started, the “Little Sewing Machine That Could” STOPPED WORKING. Just stopped. Kaput.
I lost it. Full-on started crying. Big, salty, lonely tears that wouldn’t stop. I needed this to work. And not just the machine; I needed something- ANYTHING- I was doing to try to make friends to work. Because hindsight is 20/20, I know what I RELLY needed was to stop thinking that the what I was doing was most important. Who I am at my core would bring the right people at the right time. But I was not so wise in the moment, and what happened next was quite possibly one of the greatest series of unfortunate events surrounding sewing straight lines in the history of ever.
Once I stopped crying, I texted the only two neighbors I knew- one laughed and said she hadn’t seen a sewing machine since she was a little girl (whatever, Judgey McJudgerton), but the other DID have one. As I was picking it up, she mentioned she hadn’t used it recently and wasn’t sure how well it worked, but it should be fine. I was sure it would be fine.
It was not fine. It worked for 3 bows, then also promptly stopped working. She couldn’t figure out how to get it to work either, and didn’t seem to understand that I was on a friendship completion deadline.
Now what?!? I debated taking my little machine in to get it fixed, but every place I called would need at least a week. Did these people not understand how important this was? No, no they did not. They obviously had no problems making friends with their WORKING sewing machines. Jerks.
My next idea was to just go buy a cheap kid’s sewing machine- all I needed was a straight line, right? That would suffice for this project. So off to the craft store I went, with my three whining babes in tow. One sewing machine and some Play-Doh later (y’all better believe I was not above bribery at this point), we were back home and I was setting up the new Mini-Machine.
Except freaking Mini-Machine was MISSING TWO PARTS. What the actual F.
Insert blubbering meltdown #2. “Why, God?” I remember praying. “Why does this seem impossible? Why can’t I have friends? Why does it seem like I’m not supposed to do this?”
And then it came to me. I’m not sure if it was God’s actual voice or His prompting, but clear as day, I knew what I was supposed to do.
“Forget the other machines you tried to make work. Go get YOUR machine. xTake the freaking thing apart. Demolish it. Pull its guts out. Figure out how it works. Find out why it’s broken. Put it back together.”
I thought about it for a moment- take it apart? What if I messed it up even more? What if I took it in to get it repaired and the original issue was a $20 fix, but now it was a $120 fix? And why on EARTH would I take this thing apart if I have exactly zero experience in sewing machine repair?!?!
But I’d already heard Him. “Take it apart. Figure out how it works. Find out why it’s broken. Put it back together.” I briefly acknowledged that this was about to be one of life’s many AFGO’s (short of Another Freaking Growth Opportunity), as one of my authors/humans Glennon Doyle calls them. And yet, I was so far gone into this world of loneliness and searching that taking it apart suddenly became the absolute most necessary and best option- my eyes were on the friendship prize, and that prize alone.
Naturally, I took a few minutes to YouTube the issue, and concluded after 3-ish videos that I was, in fact, an expert on sewing machine repair. The surgery commenced immediately. Ben (the hubs, and a trained computer repair technician) had been teaching our boys how to take apart computer components, and really focused on the importance of taking your time and being super careful with where you placed each tiny component. Knowing this, tiny screw and little bolts were carefully undone and placed all over my dining room table. Miniscule gears and rubber-band-like belts were place meticulously in line so I knew exactly where they had come from.
Just kidding, that’s not true. Our dining room table slowly started to look like a sewing machine crime scene as I tore the thing open with wreckless abandon, franticly searching for the part that wasn’t working. In my mind, none of the other parts mattered if I couldn’t find the problem. At one point, Ben arrived home, having had no idea there was going to be a sewing machine massacre. He started to say something silly like, “What’s going on here?”, but then I looked up at him with a fierceness that I think both intimidated and intrigued him, and he slowly backed out of the room, with the soundness of mind to not say another word (and a visible twitch in his left eye as he realized the smattering of screws and bolts scattered on the table were, in fact, components of the sewing machine. Bless his heart).
An hour into the “surgery”, I was finally able to pinpoint the issue. It was almost laughable how simple it was, but it had broken the whole dang machine (actually, the harsh move had caused the break when my machine was tossed and crushed in a box that could not protect it, but I digress). I was quickly able to hack a fix using super glue, a paper clip, and sheer determination. Within 3 minutes, my little machine was working again.
I’d done it. I’d found the root issue. And while it would never be exactly the same, it wasn’t broken anymore- it wasn’t UNfixable. After I basked in the glow of the repair for a few minutes, I took to the task of putting everything else back together, hoping it would still work once everything was closed up.
After I’d tightened the last screw, I tested it once more just to make sure the “fix” wasn’t a fluke— it wasn’t. My Little Machine That Could actually WAS. If you can believe it, I started crying AGAIN (I know, right?!) Hot, lonely tears started pooling in my eyes, except this time as they fell, they sort of slipped down my face with a sense of purpose; a physical release of the extreme pressure that had been building up for so long.
I sat for another few minutes as the “meaning” of all of this started to wash over me. I was my sewing machine. The move, for a million different reasons, had broken me. Not all of me, certainly, but a core functioning part. Relationships, as it were, do not get built or fixed or found overnight. When we moved here, even though I logically knew that, I guess I hoped that maybe it might not be true. But the loneliness that comes when you don’t have a mutual knowing of others quickly took hold of a massively important part of who I am at the core. And even though it’s not ALL of who I am, not having that functionality slowly BROKE me until, it seemed, I wasn’t working. And because nothing is ever easy and pain always changes us, I had to realize that to “fix” it would require sort of a “hack”. At the very least, it would need to be addressed before any of me could move forward. Sewing these straight lines for tiny bows would not make this beautiful mama want to be my friend any more than if I had just offered to hear her story and share mine in return. In that moment, I felt like God was smiling— nay, laughing His head off— at the fact that His stubborn and strong-willed daughter needed to demolish a sewing machine to reach this conclusion. Touche, Lord. Touche.
I finally finished the bows and returned them to my friend. Though we didn’t become best friends overnight, we did eventually bond over weird turmeric drinks and postpartum depression stories (not tiny bows or my sewing abilities). Allowing myself to be known was (and still is) scary. Yet when I did, she did too. It was awkward and unmagical, but it was real. And the deep ache of loneliness started to dull just a little.
Boulder County is one of the fastest growing areas in all of the United States- people from all over the nation are flocking here, and it’s not just because marijuana was legalized (I wonder when that will stop being a joke- not today, apparently). So I have to assume that there are HUNDREDS of other people who feel the same ache that I did/still do- that deep desire to know and be known, and the loneliness that comes from the LACK of knowing and being known.
To live is this community, to truly dwell together, we must acknowledge first that we DO have stories, and those stories carry weight. And what if that’s ok? What if the struggles and victories and pain and joy and everything in between that made us who we are today are the very things that will, in essence, save us from our loneliness?
It will take time and effort- anything worth doing usually does. It will probably be hard, too. Opening up and revealing who we are can be downright terrifying. And sometimes, it just doesn’t end up like we want it to — the relationships might not be a good fit, or getting vulnerable doesn’t feel safe.
But what if, instead of running away from the hard, we decide we are willing to run INTO it? What if we keep taking it apart, layer by layer, until there is nothing left but who we are at our core?
I’m going to guess most of you have never had to take apart a sewing machine to experience a major growth opportunity regarding loneliness. But as you stitch together you own understanding of “adult” loneliness (and why it’s so freaking difficult), I truly hope you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your story IS important- and that fighting to know and be known is WORTH IT.