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Dolores Catania is essentially Switzerland on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. That is, until you cross her.
"I make my own enemies," the longtime star declares to ET over video chat, reflecting on how she's (mostly) able to stay out of the "team" mentality that infects RHONJ year after year as castmates and fans alike routinely split into "Team Teresa Giudice" and "Team Melissa Gorga."
"I always say, at the end of the day, when I'm sitting on that couch and we're about to rip each other's face off, I always say I wouldn't want to be with anybody else next to me -- on the worst of days!" Dolores says. "So far, I don't know if that's going to change."
"When my for both my friends are fighting, I can support them, but I don't have to support what they're fighting about," she explains. "And don't think that that's easy. Everyone's like, 'How do you get away with that?' I'll tell you how I get away with it: because I do it not caring if someone’s gonna call me and tell me off, tell me I'm not a good friend, fight with me. I'm not gonna change who I am, or let somebody else dictate what I do."
It's that mentality that landed Dolores in, in her eyes, a one-sided feud with Jennifer Aydin. The two exchanged words at the season 12 reunion, with Jennifer upset Dolores didn't defend her against Margaret Josephs, who dug into the realities of Jennifer's marriage last year. Both women announced they were done being friends, with Dolores throwing in the c-word for good measure, before ultimately ending the taping laughing and seemingly back in an OK, if not good, place. Cut to weeks later, cameras back up to film season 13, and Jennifer was avoiding Dolores like the plague, while also crying to the other women about their fractured friendship.
"Jennifer can get emotional easily, and I'm not really buying that," Dolores says of the tears. "I don't know where she was coming from with that, because it was only in the [day] before that that she did not want to speak to me and walked away from me every chance she got, so how would I expect that she wants to talk to me again? And you know what? For the record, I didn't put a spell on her. I never put a spell on anybody -- and where I come from, if you put a spell on someone, that's not for free; you're going to pay for it or somebody that you love is going to pay for it. That's what goes on with that stuff. I don't play with that stuff, OK?"
"I didn't put an evil eye, I don't wish her bad," she rattles off. "I've been a big advocate for her and her husband’s marriage, 'cause I think he's a great great guy, Bill, and I still feel that way."
After overhearing parts of Jennifer's conversations, and after some of the other 'Wives filled in Dolores on Jennifer's feelings, she pulled her aside for a one-on-one conversation that quickly went left; Jennifer stormed out of a group gathering, boomeranging the c-word back at Dolores on her way out the door.
"I'm still baffled by the whole thing," Dolores admits. "I'm not going to call her names, and I'm not going to fight with her just because she's doing that; I'm not going to do it. I don't want to. It's very hard for me to turn on someone who I considered a friend, no matter what."
"But also, there was a lot of things I didn't hear when Jennifer was walking out," she notes. "I was called a brown leather bag or something?"
It will be interesting to see how watching the show back impacts where Dolores and Jennifer go from here; Dolores says they currently consider one another friends, but she's not loving what she's learning by watching the episodes. For instance, Dolores found Jennifer's comments about commitment issues in her last relationship, with Dr. David Principe, "unnecessary" and hurtful. Still, Dolores promises a more composed conversation follows in the coming weeks, seemingly a moment for Jennifer to own up to what she contributed to their issues -- including badmouthing Dolores in interviews promoting season 12.
"By the time I got to reunion, there had been so much bad press about me from her, and she wouldn't take my calls or even talk about it and sit down together," Dolores recalls. "I was done because I really did try to get in touch with her and I felt bad, you know?"
"I was writing nice stuff on her Instagram, and somebody wrote to me and said, 'Stop being nice to her! Do you know what she said about you?'" she adds. "I had no idea."
The more she stews on it, the more Dolores questions what Jennifer's real beef with her might be; she's started to wonder if her decades-long relationship with their mutual bestie, Teresa, subconsciously makes Jennifer jealous. Jennifer only met Teresa a few years ago, when she joined the show.
"It took me a long time to think that," Dolores shares. "I don't want to spend a lot of time on why someone wants to think I’m not a good friend. I know who I am, but the thought crossed my mind not too long ago, because what else? At this point, the whole world sits back and goes, why? You know? I don't know. Like really, I’m not getting in between that relationship."
She's also refusing to get in between Teresa's issues with her sister-in-law, Melissa. After more than a decade of trying to make their relationship work, the two have drawn a firm line in the sand; both are done with one another after filming season 13.
"Isn't it sad?" she asks, admitting that she found the intensity of their issues a bit of a surprise.
"I was going through so much in my life, also trying to juggle what was going on with Jennifer -- because I didn't know when she was coming from me, like, every other day," she says. "I was like, what is she going to say to me now? Why is she going to pick a fight with me? I'm walking into mozzarella party, like, what's going on now? I didn't pay such close attention to what was going on there."
"I think it was a culmination of a lot of bad water under the bridge for many years," she offers, "and then whatever happened this season. So, there I don't think it's one thing."
Dolores remains neutral in the divide, refusing to say whether one woman put in more effort over the other in the years this family feud's played out on TV. She also remains optimistic that Teresa and Melissa will find a way to co-exist together.
"I think it's time for them to have some time apart so they could have peace in their life," she says. The sisters-in-law haven't been face to face since August, when a to-be-revealed blow-up at the season-ending party led to Melissa and her husband/Teresa's brother, Joe Gorga, skipping out on Teresa's wedding to Louie Ruelas. They'll have to see each other at the reunion taping for season 13, though, which will film roughly nine months after their finale fight.
"Already I got a crick in my neck thinking about it," Dolores semi-jokes, rubbing behind her head. "In a perfect world, everybody would just move on from and leave leave all the animosity, and all the hatred, behind. Let's start the [next] season off without bringing up all the old, past stuff. Don't worry! There's always something to fight about in this group, but can we just get past all this stuff that's been done?"
"I don't see anybody leaving as of right now," she goes on to say. "I don't know how everyone's gonna get along -- no one can predict! I could predict the weather before I can predict that."
And miracles do happen in the world of Real Housewives. Teresa shocked fans over the weekend when she posted a boomerang at dinner in Las Vegas, clinking glasses with one-time sworn enemy Jacqueline Laurita. Filtered snapshots of the two posing together soon followed.
"I'm happy for that, I'm really happy for that," Dolores offers. "At one point, they were very good friends, and I love seeing old friends get back together. Sometimes in life you just need to break from each other, and if it's meant to be to get back together, you will."
There's been speculation online that the only reason the reunion happened is because Jacqueline recently spoke out negatively about Melissa. "That might a catalyst to it," Dolores says. "But I haven't spoke to Jacqueline, or to Theresa since that happened, so I don't really know the dynamics, or how that all came about."
Dolores has been living in her -- to borrow a term from Teresa -- love bubble as of late, ignoring a lot of outside noise. She's more than a year into her relationship with Paul "Paulie" Connell.
"Anybody who wants to make fun of me, I'm allowing them to because I would have done it to you," she says of letting love "soften" her. "I have a lot of apologies to make when I told my girlfriends to stop being like p***ies."
"Love will weaken you," she adds. "I mean, first episode, we all see a different side of my temper, right? I'm calm, I'm not crazy I don't lose--and if there was ever a test to that, it was that [moment with Jennifer], you know?"
"When you're in a happy place -- and I want everyone to take notice of this: When you're in a happy place, you don't really want to fight," Dolores muses. "When you're truly happy, and everything around you is good, you have a longer fuse. You have more patience. You're not as angry. So, I have to say it's a genuine, sincere place that I'm in, in this relationship."
It's not without it's challenges, though; integrating Paul into a very established world, one that includes Dolores' ex-husband, Frank Catania, hasn't been smooth sailing.
"Frank does not like change," Dolores reveals. "I warned everybody, and I made no bones about the fact, that the second half of my life is for me. I wasn't kidding. So, here I am spending all this time ... with Paul, not accessible to everybody as much as I was, and that was a big change and I think Frank thought he was losing the dynamic of the family."
"There's going to be compromises, and maybe there's going to be some boundaries thrown into place that were never there before," she continues, "but if I want to change the outcome of this relationship, then I have to change what's been done so far."
While fans will see some friction play out between the two men, Dolores says "they've gotten used to each other" by now, and Frank's helped welcome Paul into the circle of "Real Husbands" on the show.
"What I’m most excited [for the viewers] to see is how fun much fun we can have, the positive parts," Dolores says of what's to come. "There's so much negative, but I’m excited. I want people to take away the positive things from each one of us, as a single person and as a group. I don't want people to focus on the crap."
The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.
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