‘The younger men are still free and have the necessary skills to make a woman really happy. The older men simply miss the point. It is for this reason that most women opt for the Ben 10s—men young enough to be their sons or even grandsons’
Tebello Mohale (name changed to protect her identity) is a very popular figure in the industrial town of Maputsoe.
An enterprising woman who owns a clothing outlet popularly known locally as tapo-tapong because such a shop sells any type of clothing at cheap prices, Tebello appears to be doing extremely well judging by her comfortable lifestyle.
Each weekday, Tebello (38) comes to her shop in a sedan, at times driving the vehicle herself, while on other days, a youthful man drops her off in the morning and comes to pick her up later in the evening when she closes the tapo-tapong.
“That young man you see driving my car is my boyfriend,” Tebello, who is married, told the Sunday Express last week at her very popular shop.
Tebello said she has heard of people gossiping behind her back that she has “ a Ben 10”, which is street parlance for a young man in a sexual relationship with a woman old enough to be his mother or even grandmother.
“I am not bothered by the town gossip anymore. The thing is I am in love with that young man,” she declared.
In recent years, Lesotho has seen an upsurge in the ‘Ben 10’ culture. The term is derived from a popular television cartoon character called Benjamin Tennyson—a 10-year-old boy who becomes a superhero after being rescued by his grandfather from a tree.
On television, the young superhero has a watch-like device, from which he derives powers to turn himself into ten different alien creatures.
However, in present-day Lesotho, a ‘Ben 10’ is anything but a hero, but a lazy young man who preys on an older woman and pretends to be in love with her, while he is mostly after her money.
This fast-growing pattern of relationships might appear a little unusual for many, but for Tebello, there is nothing irregular about her association with someone 15 years her junior.
Tebello says her young fellow is a teller at a local bank, and used to serve her each time she went to deposit proceeds from her business before the relationship started.
“I found him very kind and always well-dressed; that is what attracted me to him,” she said, and noted that on one weekend during December 2013, she bumped into the then 22-year-old while shopping in the South African town of Ficksburg.
Tebello says they exchanged numbers and since then, have had a “solid, loving relationship”. Even though she is married, Tebello says she sees nothing wrong with her relationship with her ‘Ben 10’.
“I love my husband and my family, but I need to have some fun. This fellow gives me the fun I long for, which is a more vibrant sex life,” she said.
“We meet and call each other on agreed days. He knows that he cannot call me during the night when I am at home with my husband. He knows the limits and adheres to our rules,” she said with a giggle.
Asked whether the relationship was not that of exploitation, Tebello was quick to say no.
“I spend my money on him willingly and all he has to do is give me the companionship and attention I need from a man; that’s all.”
Yet investigations carried out by the Sunday Express in Maputsoe revealed that Tebello is not the only lady involved in this sort of relationship.
One 31-year-old woman who also agreed to talk to the Sunday Express on condition of anonymity admitted she is in a relationship with a 21-year-old “youngster”.
The woman, who works for a telecommunications company in Maputsoe, said she became involved in the relationship because she found it hard to date older men.
“An older man can be a serious problem; if he is not too busy at work, he is too drunk to give me the companionship I need, but this young man is always there for me,” she said.
She also told the Sunday Express of other women she knows are in similar relationships for the same reason of lack of attention from older men. “Some of them are forced into these things because they feel lonely or sometimes abused in their marriages,” she said.
“The younger men are still free and have the necessary skills to make a woman really happy. The older men simply miss the point. It is for this reason that most women opt for the Ben 10s—men young enough to be their sons or even grandsons,” she said.
She noted also that some women have their “personal insecurities” which may force them into dating younger men. “Some do it so that they can feel a little younger. If I date a younger man, I get this feeling that I am also young and attractive, but if I am with an older man, I feel old and don’t have the freedom to experiment new thing like I could do if I were with a younger man,” she added.
Yet what is intriguing about this ‘Ben 10’ culture are the strict rules that are set out by the couples involved. For Tebello, one of the most important rules is that her young man must only call her during the day and that he may not date any other woman.
Tebello says she insists that the ‘Ben 10’ may not go out with any other woman because she fears her car might be “abused”.
She explained: “I have invested a lot in that young man and I don’t want to share him with anyone. If I find him with another woman, I will fight with everything I have got to get him back.”
Whist defenders of the ‘Ben 10’ culture see nothing wrong with it, some Maputsoe residents interviewed by the Sunday Express condemned it as evil and disgusting.
Sello Mankoe believes the culture is not only corrupting innocent youths, but is also making them irresponsible.
“In any relationship, the man should be the provider and make sure that the woman is entertained, but this Ben 10 thing does not allow the man to play these manly roles as dictated by our culture as Basotho. All he does is enjoy the good life without providing anything.”
Makoe further indicated that women perpetuating the ‘Ben10’ culture are usually desperate for love.
“There are some women who are in desperate need of love and passion. Such women will do anything to find love even if it means settling for a boy young enough to be her son,” he said.
On her part, Phomolo Masoetsa, slammed the ‘Ben 10’ culture as a criminal act. “How does a grown woman find it easy to get into a sexual relationship with someone young enough to be her son? Such acts should not be encouraged at all as they destroy the cultural fabric of our nation,” Masoetsa said.
Masoetsa also said most women fall into the culture simply because they cannot accept themselves and who they are.
Meanwhile, Mrs Mamakhethe Phomane, who is the chairperson of SheHive—a local Nongovernmental Organisation (NGO) which offers counselling and shelter to survivors of domestic violence—told the Sunday Express that women who are involved in ‘Ben 10’ affairs are usually those who have been abused either in their marriages or in their previous relationships.
“Usually, women fall into this kind of thing when they are most vulnerable. They will settle for anything that comes their way with the hope of finding some comfort and passion,” she said.
“Some do it just to find comfort which they could not get in their previous relationships, while others come into these Ben 10 affairs with high expectations. However, some get disappointed when the Ben 10 turns out to be abusive.”
Mrs Phomane noted some young men deliberately target older women who have been victims of abuse.
“Abused women are highly vulnerable and as such, are easy targets for the Ben 10s who come looking for nothing but money from them.
“I would love to see the day when this growing trend of relationships comes to an end in our society. However, as things stand now, we are still going to see more and more women falling victim to the Ben 10s. What I know is it takes a very strong woman to resist the charm and tricks of the Ben 10s,” Mrs Phomane said.
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