Newark’s Lauren Craig on turning her Wendy Williams moment into a women’s dating movement
Published May 8, 2018 | Andaiye Taylor
Lauren Craig. Photo by Larry Lyons
When Lauren Craig–former attorney, “Glambassador” of Newark, marketing manager at Newark Arts and author of 100 Things to Do in Newark Before You Die–shared a clip of her interaction with Wendy Williams during the “Ask Wendy” segment of the The Wendy Williams Show, she already knew the minutes-long interaction with Wendy could be the beginning of something significant.
During the segment, Wendy seemed none too amused when Lauren said she only dates wealthy men, and even less so when Lauren, in response to Wendy’s question about what she has to offer high-earning guys, responded confidently, “When people ask me what I bring to the table, I say I am the table.”
When Lauren shared the clip to her social media accounts, a debate about the terms of romantic relationships between men and women ensued. While people weighed in online, Lauren was already adding more weight to her argument. She penned an essay for the publication XONecole that added deeper context, complete with citations of research and statistics, and launched IAmTheTable.com, a website where Lauren invites women to “learn how to date more confidently.” Just yesterday, Lauren published a lean volume, “The Dusty Detox Guide,” to everyone who signed up at the new site.
I spoke to Lauren recently about how the Wendy moment happened, what happened when the cameras stopped rolling, why she thinks “I am the table” is a position grown women are uniquely qualified to hold when considering men to date and how she plans to grow a broader movement from her television moment.
Andaiye: How did Ask Wendy segment come to be?
Lauren:A friend of mine, Natasha Rogers, had tickets to the show. She put it out to our group chat and I was the only one to respond. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision.
I thought about flaking because we had to be there at 8:00 a.m. but I was, for some reason, really determined to go. I was already in the mind frame that if there was a mic anywhere within five feet of me I was getting on it.
We get to Wendy and what happens is, when you get in the studio, they give everybody this sheet of paper for [the] “Ask Wendy” segment, and they’re like, “Even if you don’t have any questions, or even if you don’t want to say anything, just write something down.”
I didn’t really want to say anything, I was just planning to be in the audience and have a good time. But then I was like, “Alright, well, I’m here, so I’m going to ask this.” The question I asked was something like, “I date wealthy men exclusively. Some of my friends judge me for that. What do you think?”
So what happens is, once they go through all the questions, they start calling people they want to talk to. They called my name and I was like, “Okay, here we go!”
Once you’re backstage they tell you that you can go back and sit down if you don’t want to say your question on camera. In that moment I made the decision, “Alright, we’re doing this.” The producer talks you through your question, then right before the show, they give you the question all typed out with all the points you’re supposed to hit. They added the point about how I want to settle down someday to my question, I guess because it makes it kind of seem like I’m a little delusional.
Andaiye: Add some tension to the question.
Lauren. Exactly. I thought whatever, I’m owning this moment on national television. I wasn’t really thinking super far ahead with it. I knew it would be controversial but I was ready.
Next thing you know, I’m talking to Wendy. She was feeling me for a moment but I think something in my question, or even maybe the way I said it, my confidence, the way I didn’t back down from her line of questioning–it just really bothered her. She took it personally, you know? Because it actually went beyond what you saw on the show.
Watch Lauren’s full segment on The Wendy Williams Show:
But after I said my book title, truthfully, I blacked out. I didn’t even really notice or care what she said, I was like, “Wow, I just literally made my way on this woman’s nationally syndicated show and said my book title without booking an appearance!” Amazing.
So even when she said, “You need to grow up” I was like, “Whatever girl.” It was kind of odd, because certain audience members were really excited that she tried to read me. I could hear the row behind me clapping super hard that she was “breaking me down” and I was like, “Oh, okay.”
Andaiye: But was it mixed? Were there people there who were going up for you?
Lauren: People were going up for me. When I said “I am the table,” people actually cheered for that. But then they noticed how Wendy was responding, and she turned the tide.
I thought that she would have been like, “I think you should definitely have your standards and get your money,” or whatever. I don’t really watch her show like that, but apparently she’s told celebrities that they need to date a rich man, and she even had a whole segment on where and how to meet rich men. But for some reason with me–I think that had a lot to do with her sizing me up.
Andaiye: And I was going to ask if you got the response you expected, because I would have expected something different from having a sense of things Wendy has said about dating in the past.
Lauren: Exactly. I expected a little bit more love from her. Maybe the Jersey girl connection. I’ve always kind of felt a connection with her: plus-size, big mouth, you know?
But I think that might have been the other thing, too. Maybe she saw in me something that she could have chosen, but she didn’t. And a lot of people feel, in my comments at least, that it was bothering her because she’s in her situation with her husband, and clearly she’s the breadwinner in that relationship, and he’s got a whole other girlfriend on the side that he’s paying for (allegedly).
And the other thing is, a lot of times – I’ve seen this in my own personal life – when black women are the breadwinners and then you get divorced, you end up having to pay out money for someone else’s bad behavior, right?
Andaiye: Like Mary and Kendu.
Lauren: Correct. So we see it over and over again. And people are getting the idea that I’m being superficial or making this up. No, this happens all the time. There are factors that back up everything that I’m saying, you just don’t hear it. A lot of people feel the way I feel. It’s just that I’m the person that’s gonna go on national television and say it.
Andaiye: Can you give me any insight into your off-screen conversation or the part that didn’t air?
Lauren: After the segment, I’m so excited. I’m thinking, “This is amazing. Oh my god, I can’t even believe that just happened.”
And of course, you know, we’re still doing television: they’re telling us to stand up, clap, cheer, whoop whoop. So we’re all cheering in the audience, and Wendy’s walking through the audience, and I see her again and I’m like, “Hey girl, Wendy. It’s all good. Give me a hug!”
And she literally looked at me with the death stare. She’s looking me up and down shaking her head like, “Mmm mmm.” She refused my hug. I don’t think anybody’s ever refused my hug in my life.
I was like, “Wow.” And then after that, she was taking a moment to talk to the entire audience, again this is off-camera, and she came back to me. She’s looking at me again. I’m sitting right in the front row. And I don’t remember it verbatim, but basically she said, “You just really need to get it together, because I can understand you feeling like this at 18 or 22, but you’re 38 years old, and it’s just really ridiculous. Money isn’t everything.” Sitting there with a freaking ice cube on her finger.
Andaiye: Wait this is after–there’s not a prayer this is going to be on TV?
Lauren: Right. She felt a need to come back to me, and the audience members at that point were egging her on, “Tell her, Wendy!”
And I was just like, “Wow, okay, you’re really bothered.”
I tried to explain to her: “Wendy, Wendy–the thing is, I can be single. It’s okay. I’m perfectly fine being single.” I’m not sitting here thinking, oh my god, I’m gonna die if I don’t find a millionaire. I have my feet on the ground.
And the other thing for me, and I didn’t say at this to her—but we’re in the New York metropolitan area, okay? High six figures is really not that much money. It’s not unattainable. A partner at a large New York City law firm makes high six figures annually. I think it’s because I said “wealthy,” it was like how dare you actually feel like you are worth that.
Why shouldn’t I? And who is worth that? Who if not me?
Andaiye: How would you characterize the response to the clip? I saw a lot of folks supporting, I saw a handful who were negative. But you were more than me, people [direct messaging] you. So what was the overall response?
Lauren: Overall, I have gotten very supportive comments, but that’s with the caveat that I’m not going to Wendy’s page and reading the comments, and I’m not going to other people’s pages who are sharing and reading their comments. So, I think it’s different because I posted the video on my platform, [and] I think people are a little scared to come at me there. People are a little bit more respectful because I’m also not afraid to go right back at someone. You’re not just gonna troll my page and me not say anything.
That’s the other thing, I’m not just talking out of the clear blue sky. I have data that supports everything that I’m saying, and I think what I’m saying is so important because, black women especially, there’s an awakening happening in the way that we are relating to ourselves and also our romantic partners.
There’s an expectation that we’re the “mules” of our culture and that we love through everything. And it’s just like “No.” I’m not signing onto that anymore.
It’s about putting ourselves first in our lives and absolutely dismissing anybody who tries to treat us like we’re crazy, or superficial, or demanding for having standards when you have access to my life, to my magic, my womb–everything. It’s common sense, but it’s actually really revolutionary because we don’t talk about it, and we weren’t taught this by a lot of our mothers.
They were brought up in a different time. Men were different back then; men are a new breed today. They were brought up in a time where, you know, you kind of struggled together. It was all about the struggle. Well, guess what? It’s 2018. I don’t want to struggle anymore. I refuse. I’m not. And if I am gonna struggle it’s gonna be by myself. I’m not going to be struggling with a grown-ass man.
I think the most misunderstood part of the whole thing is people automatically think that when I say I require money as a part of dating, that I only date wealthy men, they feel like that means money is the only requirement. And that’s not what I’m saying. I’ve never said that. Of course there are other requirements. Of course there are other characteristics: a moral fiber, you have to be a nice person, you have to be generous–if you have money and you’re stingy, then you might as well be broke.
Some women who feel like I do, they would date a Trump supporter just because he makes enough money for them. Me? No. I couldn’t. You have to have a certain quality of character.
All of those things are personal is what I’m trying to say. It’s about a woman having the autonomy to say, “These are my standards.” No matter what they are. My standards are going to be different from yours or yours, and that’s fine. But all I’m saying is that black women need to put financial considerations really high on that list of characteristics and stop just feeling like love is all we need, because it’s not. It’s not.
And we see that with that Brookings Institute report that came out about intergenerational mobility. We see it with the wealth gap, which is crazy. White families have ten times the wealth of black families, and we built this country for free. This is our country and we’re still struggling, and we’re still seen as being lucky to be allowed to be here and live here. And that’s bullshit.
I Am The Table is about refusing to be oppressed by a man in that way. It’s about having the autonomy to say that I can be single if you want to make me feel like I’m not worth your time unless I’m bringing this, this, this, this, and this to the relationship.
I already know what I’m bringing. You need to find out what you’re bringing. You need to be impressing me.
Andaiye: What do you say to a man who doesn’t have it like that yet? How does he factor in?
Lauren: I mean, here’s the thing.
First of all, how old are you? Because that’s the other reason I can speak this authoritatively: I am 38 years old. I have done that whole, “Let’s build together. Let’s do this together. You have so much potential, you have ambition–that should be enough.”
And the problem is, especially when you are a successful woman, your success can make them feel less than, then they end up resenting you. So I’m thinking that if a man is saying “I don’t have it yet,” you know, that can be a conversation we would have in our twenties. And I don’t think anybody should be dating seriously in their twenties anyway, because nobody’s ready. Especially not men. Men are not ready to be serious about a woman in their twenties in my opinion.
But for me, if I’m dating a man and he’s age-appropriate for me, which would be in their forties, and they don’t have it yet, you’re not for me. I don’t have time to wait. This is not Build-A-Bear Workshop. You need to come to me whole, and that’s how we’re doing this. And that’s why the “table” question is so offensive, because it’s always the ones that are barely scratching and surviving that ask what a woman is bringing to the table.
But that’s what we’ve been doing for so long. It’s what we’ve been taught. That any little bit or piece of a man is what we should be striving for. Having a partner is somehow a status symbol, even if that partner it is not bringing anything to your equation. Matter of fact, he’s draining you physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually, but “I have a man” so that’s better than women who are single. And it’s not true, you know? Singledom is not a disease. Being single is actually very dope. You have all this time to work on yourself, which a lot of us really need to do.
And that’s the other major part of getting to this level of confidence in your worth. You have to spend time alone because you have to figure out what’s amazing about you, and how to keep cultivating that. Realize how dope you are just by yourself, and work on your past traumas, your past hurts. That’s how you can get to this level of saying, “No, you’re not enough. You and your hard penis are not enough.” Because a lot of times, that’s the only thing they’re bringing to the table.
Andaiye: So the premise of the question of what you bring to the table–you’re saying underlying it all is the idea that having a man is the be all, end all.
Lauren: Yep. It’s like you’ve been told, “No matter what you have to do to devalue yourself, getting a man is worth it.” And it’s absolutely is not. All you end up with is without a man and even less of yourself.
Andaiye: So when when did you decide to turn this moment into like a movement [with] I Am The Table?
Lauren: Wow. When I became a gif, that was kind of a watershed moment for me. It was like oh my god, that’s really cool. I said ok, this is resonating with people. And I was definitely bolstered by all the amazing comments from all the amazing women that just were like, “Girl. Yes. Exactly. You are table. We are the table. I get what you’re saying.”
And this is even before the article, where I had a chance to provide the context, because I was
I was purposefully vague when I posted the video. I just wanted reaction. I wanted people to watch the video and I wanted it to be organic. So I asked, “What do you think about what Wendy said?” Not, “Oh my god, how dare she?”
It was really gratifying that a lot of people were just like, “What? What is she talking about? That didn’t even make sense. No, never settle.”
The great thing is after the appearance I was with Natasha. And after it all went down, we had the whole day to talk it over–the whole thing. There was some regret because I didn’t know what was going to happen, especially because of what happened after the segment ended and Wendy’s reaction. I didn’t know how this was going to come off.
And to be completely transparent, I got a call from my mother, who was not happy with the appearance at all. My mother gets it now. But I had to talk her off a ledge.
So that day I was feeling a whole bunch of feelings, like wow, what’s going to happen? And Natasha suggested that I write a think piece about this to provide that context for people, because if they don’t get it, they will get it once I explain where I’m coming from. So I already knew after posting the video that I was going to write something on it.
With XONecole, not only did they agree to publish it, but the Managing Editor was like, “Girl, this is everything!” The response was so great.
So now that I know people want to hear more about this, this will definitely be my next book. People are screaming for merch. I’m not quite sure where it’s all going, but I know that there’s such a need for a voice like this, and for someone to kind of say what other people are feeling, but nobody has really said. They need that voice, and I guess I’m kind of like stepping up to the plate to say it.
That does cause people to feel a certain way about me. I’ve gotten some mean-spirited comments. I’ve had to do a lot of back-and-forth with people online. I see it as an education.
Not everybody’s going to agree, and not everybody’s going to live their life like that, and they shouldn’t. There’s really no judgment. This is all about my personal choice, and if I can be an example to other people that feel like I do, that’s great.
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