'RHONJ': Jennifer Aydin Admits Melissa Gorga Was 'Collateral Damage' in Exposing Margaret Josephs (Exclusive)

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Jennifer Aydin is calling out the double standard she says is at play on season 13 of The Real Housewives of New Jersey

"Why am I held to another standard? Why do I have to be holier than thou when they all tried to crucify me last year?" she asks, as castmates and viewers question why she and Teresa Giudice would take a meeting with co-star Margaret Josephs' ex-best friend, a woman named Laura, who promised dirt on the reality star. That dirt proved to be dirt Margaret allegedly dug up on other RHONJ 'Wives, including allegations of Melissa Gorga -- Teresa's sister-in-law -- cheating on her husband, Joe Gorga, aka Teresa's brother.

"Unfortunately, Melissa happened to be the collateral damage in this," Jennifer admits, having repeated the cheating rumors (which she claims to not believe) on camera. That conversation and its aftermath, which contributed to Teresa, Melissa and Joe's intense falling out, has yet to play out on TV, but to Jennifer, she was justified, because Margaret made Jennifer's husband, Dr. Bill Aydin, collateral damage last season, when she revealed a years-old affair

"I mean, she repeated multiple times how much she loves my husband, and she likes Bill, and Bill's a great guy -- I think we've all heard her say these things -- yet she didn't care that this was ultimately his secret and him that you were embarrassing, not me," Jennifer says. "She wanted to find a way to hurt me. and she didn't have anything. The only thing she could do is to hurt me by association, which was hurting someone that I loved and, ultimately, hurting my children."

Jennifer notes that, for the most part, her castmates had Margaret's back in that fight and "kinda sat there last year telling me that I kinda got what I deserved."

"So forgive me if my compassion wasn't big enough to be above it all," she offers. "I wasn't above it all, and I'm not above it all and I'm not perfect; I don't claim to be better than everybody else."

The full-time cast of The Real Housewives of New Jersey season 13
Andrew Eccles / Bravo

"We're all the same, OK? We're all the same," she continues. "You don't have to say you're better than me, you don't have to say I'm a hypocrite -- we've all been hypocrites at times. This was never about Melissa. This showed a pattern. This showed a pattern."

Jennifer says the Melissa cheating rumors are the third strike she counts against Margaret; she believes Margaret was the first one to speculate that Jackie Goldschneider's husband, Evan, was cheating two seasons ago. Then, last season, she revealed Bill's affair. That's why, Jennifer says, she met with Margaret's disgruntled friend and ultimately shared what she learned from that conversation. 

"It's always coming from Margaret," Jennifer alleges. "I just wanted [my castmates] to realize like, this is your friend. Maybe you should have a talk with your friend and tell her to stop saying these things to her friends, because her friend was very adamant about getting her message across. So, regardless if I every repeated it, or Teresa ever repeated it, somebody was going to repeat it; it was just a matter of time, and I wouldn't have been true or authentic to myself, or would it have been fair to the audience, if I just went all season without mentioning it."

When it first came up, though, Jennifer said she had no plans to repeat what Margaret's former friend told her and Teresa. She says she only let it slip because she needed to show the other women how Margaret keeps "an arsenal" of seemingly negative information about them at the ready.

"Maybe we just all need to realize we need to tread lightly around her, and not be so open and trusting," she says. 

"I'm just relaying what this woman said, and this woman is OK with telling Melissa face to face the things that Margaret has said about Melissa," she adds, "and listen, this woman said a lot of things about every single one of them."

Jennifer Aydin poses with Margaret Josephs' ex-best friend, Laura, on The Real Housewives of New Jersey

According to Jennifer, Margaret once recommended this woman as a potential addition to the show to casting; for one reason or another, the woman did not land a spot on RHONJ, and she fell out with Margaret. That's when she became persistent on meeting up with Teresa and Jennifer, either to retaliate against Margaret or, as Jennifer believes, "expose" Margaret for some behind-the-scenes behavior. 

"I think whatever agenda she had, she was angry at Margaret and I think she just wanted to expose her friend because of whatever situation that they went through," Jennifer surmises. "I don't even think that this is a way for her to get on the show. Like, if you really wanted to get on the show, then wait 'til your cast and then bring the tea. I actually think she probably believes maybe she won't be on this show and she thinks, 'You know what? What do I got to lose?' Because she really feels that Margaret has been her I guess obstacle on why she hasn't joined the show."

"I almost welcome her coming on at some point in time, so that I don't get shot as the messenger, you know?" she adds. "I don't want to have to be the messenger. That was never the goal, to hurt Melissa. I feel sad, but listen: Ultimately, I don't know this rumor to be true. Melissa should just be like, 'You know, it's not true. I don't care what this person says...' and brush it off. If anything, she should just go to her friend Margaret, and say like, 'What the hell are you gossiping with your friends about? Stop talking about me.'" 

While she regrets the effect the ordeal's had on Melissa, Jennifer does not regret hearing out Margaret's ex-pal.

"People are saying like, 'Oh, this was done to you and then you did it...' This is exactly why I did it," she offers. "I retaliate. I never start -- I never start -- you mess with me, you get it right back at you, and then when you get back at you, you can't say like, how could you do that to me? It doesn't work that way, OK? I build bridges I try to befriend these women and try to build friendships by opening up, and they make it seem like I'm trying to turn them against their friends. Aren't we all supposed to be friends?"

Jennifer Aydin poses for her The Real Housewives of New Jersey season 13 cast portrait
Andrew Eccles / Bravo

Five seasons in, Jennifer says her ultimate lesson learned is to stop building those bridges because someone always burns them on the other end.

"I got new girls joining the group, and I know how intimidating that can be -- and nobody tried to f**king be my friend when I first joined this group, nobody!" she spouts. "So I thought, OK, we got three, great new girls, let me try to get to know them on a personal level and, yeah, I called them on the side so we can be real friends. I mean, I thought this show was about real friendships, OK? So If I'm gonna call you and be friends with you, I'm gonna open up to you and share my perspective of what's going on. That's not to taint anybody; I don't need to steal anybody’s friends."

Jennifer's referencing a phone call she made to new "friend of" the cast Jennifer Fessler, which circled its way back to Margaret, who introduced Jenn F. to the group. Margaret was not happy that Jennifer would call up her pal to talk trash on her.

"Me calling Jenn, me calling Rachel [Fuda], me calling Danielle [Cabral], they're my new friends," she fires back. "I thought, you know what? I am their predecessor, I should be, like, a mentor. I'm gonna call them up and I'm gonna be friends and let them get to know me, and I'm sure that they're getting all the history from everybody else. Let them get my side from me and then they could be their own judge of character... but I see that that is not how it was received."

"Intention is one thing, reception is another," she says; again, though, Jennifer believes Margaret holds her to different rules than Margaret follows.

"What I do find funny is that she's angry at me for speaking to 'a mole' in her camp, finding this out from a mole in my camp," she explains, hitting back at Margaret's claims that someone in Jennifer's circle reports back information to her. That seems to include intel about Jennifer's marriage, which Margaret describes as being in a "downward spiral," a label Jennifer does not accept.

"I have a real marriage," she declares. "I have a real marriage that has real situations, and Bill and I communicate. We never communicated about the infidelity because that was my coping mechanism, but everything else we talk about it. We have civil conversations, we get heated, we are like every other marriage, OK? So there's no downward spiral. I don't know, last I checked, I am living the dream, honey!" 

The show did force Jennifer and Bill to finally face his infidelity, with emotions getting intense enough for Jennifer to question whether being a part of the show was even worth it.

"Last year, there was a lot of crying for me off camera and on camera," she recalls, "and there was a moment in time where I was crying off camera with my sister, and she looked at me, and she said, 'Is this show really worth it to you, Jen? Because I've never seen you cry so much.' And I will never forget that she said that to me, and as hard as it was -- and she’s right, I have never cried that much -- as hard as it was, I decided to share my story because I thought that there was power in my story."

She does wish she had viewed it as "our story," though, before she started speaking about it on camera. 

"It's not like I consulted with [Bill]," she notes. "I ambushed my husband and then I expected him to show up to filming and, yes, I yelled at him for not defending me, but I have to also like take a step back and feel like, where is he coming from? I just embarrassed him, and we have a conversation sometimes where he thinks like, 'I feel like it was easy for you to share this story because it was my infidelity and not yours,' and that really struck a chord with me, because it wasn't fair to him."

"We are a partnership, and the one thing we have for each other always is mutual respect and I felt sad that I did that to him," she adds. "But P.S., we are past that. It's a new year. It's a new chapter, and he knows all of my issues with Dolores [Catania]."

Dolores Catania and Jennifer Aydin have a heated convo on The Real Housewives of New Jersey

Those issues were front and center at the start of the season, resentment carried over from the season 12 reunion, at which Dolores called Jennifer a "f**king c**t." While the two seemed to brush over the insult before the taping ended, those words got to Jennifer in between filming. The two women had a heated conversation about it, and how Jennifer felt a lack of support from Dolores in season 12, in the season 13 premiere. It did not go well.

"There was never any acknowledgement of my feelings at reunion," Jennifer says. "It was kind of like a dead end. It ended, but there was no closure for me, and now we have to continue to be in each other's presence? And I'm the type where, when there's something on my mind, I have to say it, and I can't rebuild on a friendship with her if there's any animosity."

"Everybody was trying to tell me I needed to own my part in it all, and I was like, dude! The only part that I see that I have is me complaining about the way that she treated me, so I am owning my part," she continues. "I'm sad. I said nothing for years. I said nothing, and left the little digs ... I never saw her dig any other castmate like that."

Jennifer claims the Dolores she knows off camera operates differently from the one on camera, and that's where her real issues lie. 

"I wanted her to be like, 'I didn't know I was treating you this way, I didn't know you were feeling this way. I care about you. I don't want you to feel that way...' and that's not what I got," she laments. "I got, 'That's how she feels? All right. Good, then I'm not going to be friends with her.'"

"I've always loved Dolores," she shares. "I looked up to her like a big sister, a mentor, you know? I trusted her advice. I've never once given her my wrath, or my backlash, or my comebacks -- which there were many opportunities that I could have -- and I didn't because I didn't want to; because my love for her superseded that, and it was like, now is the chance for you to tell me that you love me just as much, and it's, 'F*** you c***?'"

Jennifer threw that insult right back at Dolores, along with telling her she looks like an old handbag. The latter she takes back.

"That was mean," she admits, "but that just goes to show you what a low place I was at, where I felt that I had nothing left to lose."

"I don't even remember saying that to her," she confesses. "I regret that and I apologize to her, and I will apologize now for saying that. That was a low blow. She's beautiful, and we all know Dolores is beautiful. I was just venting." 

The two ultimately found their way back to friendship, a "journey" Jennifer says fans will have to stay tuned in to see. They recently joined forces to support earthquake relief in Turkey, Jennifer's home country. Jennifer continues to help raise funds through NJEarthquakeRelief.org

"I contacted the mayor of Patterson, [New Jersey], because Patterson has the largest population of Turkish citizens in the United States -- I never knew that," she shares. "They created a website and I am basically an ambassador, and I have been trying to raise funds ... [and] I asked Dolores to help me."

"I really urge everybody if you want to donate a tent, sponsor a tent, it's only $150," she adds "You can just pledge $150, and put in the notes that you want it to go to a tent. It doesn't have to be a lot of money. I have 500,000 followers. If all my followers just donated $1 -- just $1 - that amount of money is huge for these people."

Jennifer's finding the balance in dealing with the serious situation overseas and the petty drama unfolding on TV. She shuts down Dolores' speculation that any animosity between them is born from Jennifer being jealous of her history with Teresa. The two grew up together. 

"Absolutely not," she scoffs. "Just because you've known someone for longer doesn't necessarily equal to being close with them."

"My relationship with Teresa has nothing to do with Dolores, absolutely nothing," she adds. "There is no jealousy there. ... I will say with all confidence that Teresa and I are much closer friends than Dolores and Teresa ... as far as closeness, and hanging out." 

"If Dolores wants to come in and make this a threesome, I'm for it," she cracks. "I'm glad Dolores and I made up. Like, I love her, and that was always my issue."

Jennifer's ride-or-die nature for Teresa -- and regular social media posts with her pal -- lead some online to label her a "soldier for Tre," a moniker that doesn't bother her one bit.

"I's the same thing where we call Jackie and Melissa 'Margaret Soldiers,'" she points out. "Teresa and I hang out a lot, OK? I celebrate my friends. I mean, I'll post my nephew's birthday, and nobody tells me how I’m kissing my nephew's a***. But when I post one of my bestie's birthdays it's, 'Oh, you're kissing her...' So, you know what? It's all good. They're the ones following me. I don't even know who they are."

One of Jennifer's followers is The Real Housewives of Orange County star Tamra Judge, who recently admitted that Jennifer "bugs the s**t" out of her on an episode of her Two Ts in a Pod podcast (an episode featuring Margaret).

"Didn't she get fired?" Jennifer asks, unaware that Tamra actually rejoined RHOC for season 17, set to premiere later this year.

"Oh she did? All right, congrats, Tamra," she cracks once ET shares the update. "I don't know if this is Tamra Judge or maybe Tamra Grudge."

Jennifer says she's "never said anything bad" about Tamra, but Tamra took comments she made out of context. 

"I guess somebody had asked me if there was ever something on camera that I would never do, and I had said, like, a hot-tub scene with my husband," she says. "I think that’s über cringe. I wasn't referencing her specifically, and let's just acknowledge that Tamra has not been the only Housewife to do that."

"It's cringeworthy across the board for me," she remarks. "I don't know if this is some kind of underlying resentment that she has towards me and she's holding a grudge, but I'm not either here or there about Tamra, and I hope this time she could make it stick with her reign on Housewives, I really hope -- and that's, like, no shade."

"What I will say is, I don't know anything about Tamra Judge and I don't even know enough about her for her to get under my skin," she adds. "I'm not bothered by her. So she can be bothered by me all she wants. ... Say hi to Tamra Grudge for me."

The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.


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