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 aisle, 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've literally watched the entire series of A Different World at least 60 times throughout my life but this time, season five (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. Why wouldn't anyone WANT a man like Dwayne?
Sure, he wasn't the type of man she was attracted to. And okay, maybe he didn't have even a third of the 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. 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.
But at 32, this scene has an entirely different message. I'm ashamed to admit that I once thought this was the ideal relationship. As I sat here and watched the season play out, I realized why I was so annoyed and bothered. It hit me.
I've met Dwaynes before and Dwayne was, is, and will forever be trash.
To put this into perspective, let's 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." Denise leaves, crushing his dream for Einstein babies with hippy style, so now he's left with no one to fancy. In enters Whitley.
The woman he once considered to be an annoyance has become less repulsive and more like a challenge.
He knew that she was out of his league and 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. 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.
Then, Dwayne 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.
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 into 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. And then, Dwayne screws up again.
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. 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, it's a little disturbing.
Whitley then 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. It's the relationship she has always dreamed of, and before Dwayne, the kind of thing her dreams were made of. Soon after, Whitley gets engaged and Dwayne finds out. He is enraged.
How dare she get engaged? This was supposed to be a phase. She wasn't supposed to really get serious with this man. She was supposed to wait.
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 must really love her, right? Because only a man truly in love would wait until the night before your marriage to another man to show up and apologize for hurting you all those months ago.
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. 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.
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."
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. She should be happy, but she's torn and 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. Then, the iconic scene begins to take place.
Everyone at the altar has taken their place. Whitley has successfully been walked down the aisle. Her family and friends looking on in awe of how beautiful she looks. And then, 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 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 sincerity would win him the prize of having Whitley Gilbert as his wife, and it worked. No woman wants to see the man she loves cry. With that said, 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. He fought for the right to call her "his". He fought for his ego.
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. Certain opportunities only come around once in a lifetime and we will throw all caution to the wind for love.
Love is beautiful when it is healthy and productive. Love is a beautiful thing when it is grounded on mutual respect and growth.
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.
Whitley 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 completely stripped Whitley of all that she was, and she became a mirror of him. This is how most Dwaynes operate.
Dwayne and Whitley's storyline was a toxic tale of a male's 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.
This article was originally published by https://www.jenniferrenee.co.