Some time ago, I sat down on my couch and asked my boyfriend of slightly less than two years what kind of pizza he wanted to order for dinner.
"Shaunacy," he said. "I don’t think we should order pizza. I think we should break up."
Within the span of just a few seconds, I was out both a boyfriend and a dinner delivery, with almost no explanation for either.
Now, I have a reasonably symmetrical face, a spectacular personality (sources say), a steady job, and an amazing cat. Thus, to really dig into why someone could possibly not want to date me, I turned to the only source I could think of: a feng shui expert. Which of my interior design choices could I blame for the demise of my relationship?
I set up a consultation with the home-services company Handy’s latest promotion, First Date Feng Shui. To her credit, Carol Olmstead, a feng shui consultant who’s been in the business for 18 years, refused to directly assert that the placement of my bed was at the root of my dumping. But it probably wasn’t helping me in the dating world, either. Olmstead had a laundry list of recommendations as to how I could make my home more hospitable to any future dates I might bring home.
Olmstead and I connect on Skype, so that I can take her on a virtual tour of my apartment. She asks me to start at the door. Immediately, I can tell that she’s not impressed. I’m pushing away potential lovers the minute I open my front door. First of all, my door opens directly into a blank white wall. The front door of a home is called the Mouth of Chi in feng shui. “It’s where the good energy comes from,” she tells me, before chiding, “What do you see? You see nothing.” I make a note to get a poster of some kind ASAP.
In feng shui, the diagram above, called the Bagua, lays out how different aspects of life should be arranged spatially. The bottom of the map corresponds to wherever the main door is in the space. Image Credit: Shandi Greve Penrod via Wikipedia // CC BY-SA 3.0
But that’s not even the worst thing about my entryway. At the time of our Skype session, my apartment is cleaner than it has been in weeks, but my roommates and I have gotten into the habit of leaving our vacuum in a small nook next to the door. Had Carol popped by unexpectedly just a few days before, she would have also seen a mound of shoes, recycling bags not yet taken to the downstairs bins, and other clutter. Perhaps it’s not surprising that such an entryway might be a bit of a turn-off for future paramours.
“Too much stuff by the front door is pushing away these relationships before they come in,” she advises. Shoes, especially, are a no-no near the door, since they represent walking away—basically, they show that you’re ready to run out the door at any moment. Frankly, on certain online dates, that might be close to the truth—but that's another story.
Next, Olmstead asks me to take her into my bedroom. Here, too, my interior decorating skills do not scream romance, I discover. Predictably, she loves the Chinatown aura portrait I have hanging on my wall, but that's about it. For one thing, there is a desk in my room, which alerts my lovers to the idea that I might be thinking about work while we cuddle. Plus, all my posters are too high on the wall. They should be at eye level, and arranged so that anything representing love—my photo of doughnuts arranged into a heart, for instance—is hung in the far right-hand corner of the room opposite the door, which in feng shui is the "romance" area. Clearly it's the wrong spot for my Soviet-themed Tetris poster.
And pictures of friends and family have no place in your romance room: It’s essentially like letting them watch you do it, she explains, in not so many words. Eek.
Like many young singles living in small quarters, I have my bed shoved into a corner, leaving only one method of egress. This means anyone sleeping next to me has to crawl over my slumbering body—or scramble over the wire footboard—to head to the bathroom in the middle of the night. While I don’t find that to be a problem, this leaves my partners feeling “symbolically trapped in the relationship,” as Olmstead puts it. Ideally, there should be enough space for someone to walk and a proper bedside table on each side of the bed. No, you shouldn’t let your partner make do with a stack of unread books as a bedside table while you enjoy the vintage side table you scored on Craigslist.
The bedroom in question. Image Credit: Shaunacy Ferro
And if, like me, you’re sleeping with your feet pointed toward the door, don’t let a feng shui expert into your house. “That’s called the death position,” Olmstead tells me, after asking if I have a sense of humor about these sorts of things. “In Chinese culture, the body is carried out feet first,” she explains. Luckily for me, the bad vibes can be muted by having a solid footboard that’s taller than your feet, or, in my case, throwing a blanket over the metal frame at the end of my bed.
Furthermore, in light of my recent break-up, Olmstead suggests I invest in some new bedding. Traditionally, the end of a relationship should be followed by the purchase of a new bed, but even she recognizes that that isn’t going to happen anytime soon on a New York journalist’s salary. Instead, she suggests getting new sheets, so that I’m not rolling around in “all that negative energy” from the break-up.
Plus, she wants me to purge any old clothes of his, any gifts I associate with him, and any photos. “Lock them in a storage unit,” she says. “If it’s not worth spending the money, it’s not worth keeping.” I ask her if it’s alright to keep a plant given to me for Valentine’s Day on my fire escape, out of sight and out of the direct confines of my apartment. Give it to a friend, she advises, until you can look at it and just see a plant.
She’s ruthless on this subject. If it’s valuable, sell it, she says. I ask if I can ever bring those keepsakes back into my home. The answer—if it’s something that will always remind you of your one-time happiness with that person—is never. Harsh.
When it comes time to find a new partner, having some extra space in the apartment is key, she advises. A little extra room in the closet, space for someone else’s food on the shelves, that sort of thing. I’ll get right around to that, after I abandon my roommates for a mansion in the suburbs. But for now, I think my fridge space will have to stay off-limits to lovers.
Olmstead’s final verdict on my living space is not exactly heartwarming. “It’s not an especially inviting apartment,” she says, regardless of whether or not it has driven my past lovers over the edge. Unfortunately, I love having my bed where it is. Any future partner is just going to have to like being physically and emotionally trapped in a relationship with me.