"I was possibly going back, but I just kept thinking: I discussed it with my boyfriend [Paul Bernon] and my friends on beach walks. Everyone thinks I left because of money. I wasn’t leaving because of money, I was staying because of money," she says. "It no longer became this platform to promote my business, because I had done that, and there was more promoting sort of new and questionable businesses than the legitimate ones at this point, if that makes any sense."
"So it wasn’t the platform anymore. It was really the paycheck, which was, you know, astronomical at that point. And so I was staying because of money," Frankel continues. "And I just thought to myself, a bartender, a high-class prostitute who’s making a lot of money, you gotta sometimes make a move, and just say, 'Let me just do what feels right to me.'"
After a bit of conversation that Frankel said "was not financial," she had a moment where she said, "You know what? I'm out."
"I had to deal with this, because they were starting to film, and I thought to myself, 'I’m out. I’m just out,'" she recalls. "... It’s taken me longer to order a pasta dish than just to decide this. I just was looking for a reason. And I just was ready to do it. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I mean, honestly -- I just didn’t."
The businesswoman went on to call the Housewives experience "exhausting and emotional," adding that it's also "exhausting and taxing."
"People across the franchise will tell you they develop anxiety, and it’s very stressful. And that’s not how I am in the relationships that I’ve cultivated over the years," she says. "My ex, Dennis, used to say, 'If someone said what that person said to you, I would never speak to them again as long as I live.' You’re in a show environment, and it’s taxing. But sometimes what’s happening emotionally on the screen is also a result of exhaustion."
"I have a real career. So it’s really hard when we’re not covering that what I’m really doing is my career, because I then have to do the show and my real career," she continues, referencing her Skinnygirl empire. "So if we’re just showing me having lunches and on vacations, then I’ve got three jobs -- because I’ve got to be a mother too."
For Frankel, getting "mired in caring about things and people that you just normally wouldn’t care about" was also a downside of appearing on the reality series.
"There’s a level of gossip, and a level of gotcha -- oh, you did that and you cheated and you’re really broke, and you did this. I just was ready. I just felt like I have to kind of really spend my time focusing on business, my daughter, philanthropy," she says. "You want to just feel good about what you did. There’s no price on sanity, and your mental health and your emotional health."
"And you can’t pay me enough to just have a hysterical meltdown crying right now," Frankel adds. "There’s no amount of money that could make me want to sit somewhere and cry over something I wouldn’t normally care about."
Since making her decision -- and the announcement of The Big Shot With Bethenny, an Apprentice-style reality show with Mark Burnett on HBO Max -- Frankel says she feels "clean."
"I feel pure. I feel honest. I feel balanced. I feel rested. I feel calm," she says. " It does feel different. It took, like, a couple of months to detox from being on TV in that way for 12 years, for a quarter of my life."
"So it was a great opportunity, it was a great experience, a great platform. I came on as a what I consider a girl, and now I’m a woman and a mother and a business person," Frankel continues. "So it definitely was a life transition. It was definitely just something that you needed to detox from, and realize that you know, there’s a whole other life that can be a lot more quiet."
When ET caught up with Frankel in November, she expressed excitement about her next career steps.
"It's amazing to be able to take the next step in television," she said. "And, Mark Burnett is another level -- I've met my match! I've met my match romantically and I've met my match, creatively, business-wise and [in] television with Mark Burnett."