AWhen she decides to contact her ex-boyfriends, Katja Lewina is actually in a stable situation. She has a daughter from a previous relationship and has been in an open marriage to a much older man for several years. She herself gives a few skeptical hints as to how alive this marriage is, but there is no major upheaval in her life at the moment. Only the onset of realization that perhaps not all failed relationships were their partners’ fault.
“Even at such a young age, my whole inability to relate came to fruition. Others had tender crushes, I just seemed like an asshole.” With this realization, Lewina sets about contacting her exes, and it is imperative that she sees herself as deeply responsible for the failure of the relationships. Because with some it has left scorched earth, and not all welcome their contact.
Lewina’s journey begins in the toilet. There she sits and writes a Whatsapp message to one of her ex-boyfriends: “I’ll text him this while I’m emptying.” A wealth of detail that continues throughout the book. Those who are not enthusiastic about explicit descriptions of bodily functions and sex should skip the reading. This also applies to everyone who prefers classic non-fiction books: “Ex” can be classified as a narrative non-fiction book with good intentions, but the interspersed quotations from Eva Illouz are not really enough as a technical underpinning.
The concept of this book is similar to the movie Broken Flowers, in which Bill Murray plays a man who travels to his former partners. Only then does he discover his mistakes; Lewina is faster with it. However, she is also quick to generalize her own fallacies. “A partner should be everything to us: muse, sex goddess, mother, father, child and pet, partner in crime and feel-good machine rolled into one, and if one of them doesn’t work out, then it was he:she doesn’t,” she writes. “And so we plunge headlong into relationship after relationship, producing ex after ex after ex.” Who is we, you might ask, but the answer is obvious.
In any case, the author thinks you should find out what you have learned from breakups and what you can do better in the future. She doesn’t reveal where the charm lies in not doing it until years later. To do this, she takes the reader to her therapist, where she tries to identify and analyze her motives. And she goes straight back into a relationship with one of her exes, but this time she thinks she’s doing it right. Or at least more correctly.
This reads mostly entertaining, but the gain in knowledge is small. This is made particularly unpleasant in those places where the author claims a newly won expert status. About her husband she writes: “Whatever happens, however our relationship may change: We will always be important to each other. That, my dear readers, is true love.” Oh right. At the end she surprises with five “learnings”. One of them is: “Our gut feeling doesn’t lie.” And finally there is an appeal: “Call your ex! You can only win.” Maybe. But what?
Katja Lewina: “Ex”. 20 years, 10 men and everything that can go wrong. Dumont Verlag, Cologne 2022. 208 p., hardcover, €22.