A Different World: Revisiting Dwayne & Whitley's Toxic Cautionary Tale of the "Nice Guy" and the Male Ego
Whitley's wedding episode on A Different World has always made me twitch but for different reasons. Watching it at 32 vs watching it as a teenager gives me very different vibes, feelings and thoughts as it should.
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It’s one of the most iconic, more memorable and arguably one of the most talked about moments on Black television. Everyone remembers how they felt the first time or hell even the 100th time they watched Dwayne run up the isle, confess his love for Whitley and run off into the sunset with his new bride. It’s every girls dream. But it shouldn’t be.
I’m a fan of watching reruns. I’m a rerun queen. My friends make fun of me for watching reruns of old sitcoms, shows and movies. What can I say. I am a fan of the classics. But I like to watch the old stuff for another reason as well. While others might get burnt out on watching a show more than once or twice, I find that watching something several times always leaves you noticing something you didn’t notice before or understanding a message you missed before especially when there is so much going on in the show or movie. I’ve literally watched the entire series of A Different World at least 60 times throughout my life but this time season 5 (the season Whitley gets married) burned me to my core.
At 16, this scene was a classic example of a man who was truly in love and put his pride aside to go after the woman he loves. He realized that he would never find another woman like her and got his "shit" together to win back the love of his life. At 16, I hated how Whitley "broke his heart" and ran off like a scarlet hussy with the first man who flashed a dollar in her eye. It was my opinion that she overreacted to him casually going out on a “friendly” date with an old friend. I mean, it’s not like he actually cheated on her. She was being a whiny little brat. Dwayne was my man anyway. BYE heaux.
She was a gold-digger. She was selfish. Dwayne was a good man, treated her like royalty. He pursued her faithfully for a long time. He was her friend. He loved her. He was one of the good ones and she treated him like dirt. Stuck up trollop. Why wouldn't anyone WANT a man like Dwayne? Sure, he wasn’t type of man she was attracted to. And okay, maybe he didn’t have even a third of qualities on her checklist. But at least he treated her nice. At least he liked her. At least he…at least at least at least. Dumb broad. Women like her made it hard for women all over.
I was only 16 but I knew this much, if my man didn’t fight for me like Dwayne “fought” for Whitley, it wasn’t real love.
At 32, this scene has an entirely different message. This is sad and I don’t see how myself or anyone else could find this romantic. I’m ashamed to admit that I once thought this was the ideal relationship. As I sat here and watched the season play out (while growing increasingly annoyed but not understanding why) I realized why I was so annoyed and bothered. Why my once love for Dwayne Wayne had turned into dislike, aggravation and borderline hate. It hit me.
I’ve met Dwaynes before and Dwayne was, is and will forever be trash.
To put this into perspective lets travel down memory lane:
The first season of A Different World centered around Denise Huxtable. This was the first woman he was infatuated with who, as to be expected, did not return the interest. Denise, much like Whitley, was completely out of his league something he already knew but that did not stop him from constantly and often inappropriately, forcing himself on to Denise. It is important to remember that initially Dwayne did not want Whitley. In fact, he couldn’t stand Whitley. He thought she was a stuck up, rich kid who only got into Hilman because her family had money. He didn’t even respect Whitley as a person. Going back as far as the very first season, Dwayne was constantly making fun of, harassing and belittling Whitley for how she talked, the way she dressed and often poked fun at her making reference to what he assumed to be her “lack of intellectual capacity”. Because of course, a woman of her caliber can’t be too smart, right? Unlike a woman like Denise. Denise was smart like he was was. Denise wasn’t materialistic and although she came from a pretty privileged background herself, she seemed humble and willing to settle. He knew he had no chance with Denise, but the thrill of trying was far too hard to resist. So he pursued and he failed.
Denise leaves crushing his dream for Einstein babies with hippy style so now he left with no one to fancy, no one to harass and no one to make awkward. He needs a new victim. In enters Whitley. The woman he once considered to be an annoyance has become less repulsive and more like a challenge. He accepts. He begins to fixate his energy on her, pulling all of the moves he used on Denise along with a few reviewed and updated strategies he learned over the summer. I assume this new found confidence is a result of him finally losing his virginity, but I shall digress.
This man literally harassed this woman into dating him for almost two entire school years, constantly demanding her attention while trying to manipulate himself into her presence any change he got. He knew that she out of his league and he knew that she wanted a certain type man and made it a point to constantly berate her and the standards she had for herself guilting her into thinking that wanting more was a problem. He guilted her out of her standards and mocked her desire to aspire for more out of life. When she had a dream, he laughed and said “get real”. He wanted her to bring her expectations down to his level. He knew that the only way he could get Whitley was by making her believe that mediocrity and a “humble” life was the only way to live fully and truly. He wanted her to settle and he gets her. He has what he wants. She falls in love. She finally falls in love with him. She loves this man so much that even the threat of losing her inheritance wasn’t enough to make her end it. She was completely gone. He had her.
Over the course of their relationship Dwayne the Nerd transforms into Dwayne the Stud. He dresses better. He walks differently. He talks with more confidence. People listen to him when he speaks. They take him more seriously. And while no one will say it out loud, that respect comes partially (or primarily) from the fact that he is dating Whitley. He was always smart. This goes without saying. But he wasn’t respected. He had it all.
He screws up.
The night before Whitley is set to leave for her summer job she overhears Dwayne talking on the fire escape with Ron about the doubts he was having about them separating for the summer. He says that long distance relationships don’t work and that he isn’t sure that he is willing to go through the stress of a relationship on top of the busy summer he has ahead. Ron jokes about calling the honeys to which Dwayne declines stating that he doesn’t want honeys he wants Whitley. Ron challenges him stating that if he really wanted Whitley he wouldn’t be giving up so easily. This challenge attacks Dwayne’s ego sending him into a mini man tantrum, all of which is heard by Whitley. On the night of her departure, Whitley tells Dwayne that she has also been thinking and she doesn’t think that a relationship is something that they need at the moment. Uncertain of what just happened and with his pride on the ground, Dwayne does the unimaginable. As she disappears in the dark, Dwayne in one last desperate attempt to reclaim himself, screams after her asking her to marry him. The season ends with Whitley stopping in her tracks, turning to face him and the episode ends.
The following season opens with Dwayne and Whitney now living together in their new quarters on campus. Whitley is chasing Dwayne around the apartment demanding that he give her the ring she had been waiting for all summer. That’s right. She accepted the impromptu proposal sans ring and it appears that the couple is “happy". Everyone is getting along. Everyone is looking forward to the wedding. Dwayne is still the “man”. Life is good.
He screws up…again.
He had her. But now the chase was no longer fun. He needed more. He wanted more. So he sought more. Feeling as if he is missing something he makes the decision to entertain another woman hours before his engagement party. Whitley, feeling hurt and betrayed by Dwayne calls off the engagement. She did not want to marry someone who wasn’t sure they wanted to be married.
When you think about it Dwayne is the definition of the “nice guy/nerd” who just wants to be your friend but he really is just silently waiting for the right vulnerable moment to make his move. He went from being her annoying bothersome headache to being her “goofy, dorky friend” to the man she fell in love with. Sounds romantic, right?. He watched her moves. He watched who she dated. He listened to her problems and made sure that he was the first ear to listen when she needed one. On the surface it sounds sweet but when you snap back and think about it, considering how it all played out, its a little disturbing. Even when they broke up he went out of his way to stay in her face and in her space, keeping her close and making sure to have access to her. Even when he started dating the girl he met in Korea, he used that relationship to taunt Whitley and “prove” that he was capable of committing. To Whitley, I imagine it resulted in her feeling as if the problem was her thus making her insecure and self-conscious. This is a natural feeling to question yourself in such a manner.
Fast forward down the season and Whitley happens to meet a dashing young aspiring Senator who is completely in awe of her. They immediately hit it off and quickly land into a relationship. Byron wants nothing more from her than her. She doesn’t have to change who she is. She doesn’t have to pretend to be “humble”. She doesn’t have to settle or go without. Its the relationship she has always dreamed of and before Dwayne the kind of thing her dreams were made of. But no matter how hard she tries she simply can’t shake Dwayne out of her mind. She sees him practically everyday. She works with him. She has classes with him. They share the same mutual friends. They hang out at the same spots. He is literally and was an unavoidable situation. And he was aware of the awkwardness. He enjoyed it. He enjoyed making her uncomfortable. Seeing her blush when he made comments towards her that he knew were inappropriate. He wanted her to know that he was always going to be around. You cant get rid of me. And even though I am with someone else. Even though I hurt you. You will always be mine.
He mind-fucked her good.
Whitley gets engaged. Dwayne finds out. He is enraged. How dare she get engaged? This was suppose to be a phase. She wasn’t suppose to really get serious with this man. She was just suppose to have her little fun but put her life on hold until he was ready. Until he was finished sowing her royal oats. He was young, had finally grown into his looks, and more importantly women now wanted him. She was suppose to wait. He had become so consumed by his thoughts on Whitley that his girlfriend made the decision to go. She couldn't take being second to another woman. As she shouldn’t. So there he was. No girlfriend and he has no Whitley. What’s a man to do? Ah. Mope around and feel sorry for yourself, blaming everyone around you for the mess that you created. And then it hits him. I’ll go mess with Whitley, ruin her relationship, she’ll come running back to me. I’ll be in control again and all will be well once again in Dwayne world.
This will work.
Dwayne waits until the night before the wedding to make his move. He makes his way into Whitley’s presence by arriving unannounced to her home and makes this announcement of remorse and regret for all the things he has done. He apologizes. Omg. He apologized. He must really love her, right? Because only a man truly in love would wait until the night before your marriage to another man, show up and apologize for hurting you all those months ago and flaunting a new relationship in your face. The stress of getting married is enough in itself, but lets had on my ego and my bullshit as flavor because...I love you.
He tells her that the pressure she was putting on him before to “do better” was exactly the type of “pressure” he needed to “get his act together”. And suddenly, on the eve of her marriage to man who doesn’t “need” her to pressure him, he’s had this epiphany. To put the icing on the cake and to really fuck up her head he begins to take a journey down memory lane casually reminding her of all the good times they shared. He begins to talk about how their friendship grew (was forced) and how they always were there for each other. Whitley’s eyes begin to tear up as she is now forced to once again remember what she was trying to forget. He then turns to her and asks her if they were all of that to each other, why didn’t their relationship work? He watches Whitley choke. He’s got her. He now knows that she does, in fact, still love him. There’s hope. Before she can answer he jumps up in a “welp that was fun” manner, stating that he didn’t know why either. Being sure to leave no corner unturned he grabs a flower from the garden, kneels down on one knee, hands the flower to Whitley and says, “ I always knew you would make a beautiful bride, Whitley Gilbert.”
The seed has been sown. He leaves, stopping only for a second to catch one more glimpse of a now emotionally distraught bride sitting in the garden crying.
Now she’s confused. She was already having doubts but now what? She decides to go through with getting married, or at least try to. Because what excuse does she have to not get married? She can’t tell Byron that she doesn’t want to get married because she still in love with Dwayne. She also has to now choose between having the life that she wants or being with someone who’s already hurt her once but her heart desires. Its her wedding day. She should be happy. But she’s sad. She’s torn. She doesn’t know what to do. Everyone around her is excited and beaming with joy and she is struggling to keep a smile on her face. On her wedding day. Then the iconic scene begins to take place.
The guest are all seated. Everyone at the altar has taken their place. Whitley has successfully been walked down the aisle. She’s made it there. Her family and friends looking on in awe of how beautiful she looks. But she doesn’t hear anything and she can’t see anything. Because everywhere she turns she sees Dwayne. He is everywhere. And right when she thought it could not get any worse Dwayne makes his move.
He had her cornered. It was now or never. If he was going to be successful in his plan he had to put on extra. He had to make this dramatic. He had to do something, anything, to prove that he was the better man. Because his ego would not let him lose. So he did the unthinkable. He crashed her wedding coming in proclaiming his love in front of her, her family, all of their friends, Byron and all of his constituents.
Don’t marry him, Whitley. Marry me. Be MY wife. Love me not him. He cried. He screamed. He begged. He fought. He was hoping that this public display of disarray would convince her of his sincerity and win him the prize of having Whitley Gilbert as his wife.
No woman wants to see the man she loves cry. And to see a man cry over you, publicly, and so dramatically. Hell yeah. Whitley looked at the man who had done nothing wrong but love her, apologized for wasting his time and then ran off to hug the man who fought for her love. But he didn’t fight for her love. Her fought for the right to call her “his”. He fought for his ego. Not her. We then get to spend the next few seasons watching Whitley and Dwayne live happily struggle after.
Its interesting rewatching episodes as an adult who has had my fair share of relationships and situationships. Age, time and experience truly does change ones perspective and, hopefully, how you view the world.
When I was 16 I could not stand with Whitley. I thought she was high maintenance, ditzy, ungrateful, spoiled, overly judgmental, stuck up and thought the world revolved around her. And perhaps she was, in fact, all of those things. Perhaps she was everything that I hated her for. Ironically, I still hate Whitley, no I pity Whitley, but for an entirely different reason.
Whitley made the decision that a lot of black women tend to make when dating and picking partners. We allow our emotions and our need to see the “potential” in a person to cloud our judgment. We hear a good word from a slick tongue and see a glimmer in the eye that looks like a tear and we are ready to throw away all of our common sense and all of the lessons that history has taught us in hopes that this time around it will be different. And unlike TV that almost never happens. There is almost never a “happily ever after”. There are only certain things in life that happens commonly or to more that a few. Certain opportunities only come around once in a lifetime and we will throw all caution to the wind for love.
Now don’t get me wrong. Love is beautiful when it is healthy and productive. Love is a beautiful thing when it is grounded on mutual respect and growth. But most love is rooted in ownership and possessiveness. Most love is rooted in manipulation and lies. And by the time you realize what’s going on you will look up and 15 years has passed you by. You’ve had three children, you’ve never made good on any of your goals, the world has changed and you have remained the same because you were following potential and the promise of doing right the next time.
Dwayne could have prevented all of this from happening if he had not made a mistake of thinking that he could do better. If he had not gotten greedy and allowed his ego to tell him that he was the man now and therefore had options. If he had not listened to the voice telling him that "my dude, if you can get Whitley Gilbert to fall in love with you just imagine who else you can get" none of this would have taken place. If he has simply left Whitley alone when she insisted that she was not interested...
Who knows who, what or where Whitley would have been if Dwayne hadn’t seen her as a conquest that needed to be conquered. Would she have ever met Byron? Would she have married someone else like him? Would she have ever gotten her dream of being the “trophy wife” she always dreamt of being. Regardless of whether you agree with that type of lifestyle, it was her dream and she was allowed to want that for herself.
One could argue that his initial doubt came from Whitleys constant nagging or annoying habits and behaviors. But Dwayne was fully aware of how Whitley was from the beginning. In fact it was one of the things that he eventually came to adore about her and made him pursue her for so long and so hard. She was a challenge. She was difficult. Her demanding nature, her refusal to settle, her ambition, her firmness...all of which made the chase that much more exciting. He wanted it. He got it. And once he got Whitley she was never the same. He completely stripped her of all that she was and she became a mirror of him.
This is how most Dwayne’s operator.
Dwayne and Whitley’s storyline was a toxic tale of a males ego and the damage it can cause to a woman if she’s not careful and diligent in protecting herself.
Don’t be Whitley. Marry Byron.