Dolores Catania had no idea she'd been meme'd. The Real Housewives of New Jersey star's unimpressed reaction to her co-star Margaret Josephs' boob job on last week’s episode sparked tweet after Instagram after TikTok, but Dolores doesn’t understand what the big deal is about her expression.
"Everyone's talking about that!" Dolores exclaims over video chat with ET, glass of red wine in hand. "I can’t imagine that it was bad. That can't be what I was looking at. I had no idea that this is a thing, I just found out today. So I have to go back and watch. What's wrong with my reaction?"
Dolores says the look on her face as Margaret wandered the RHONJ cast's Lake George, New York, vacation home topless was more "Oh, I’ve seen these already" than "Meh," which it's been interpreted as online.
"I did see it many times," she says of Margaret's new breasts. "I've never seen anybody naked more than Margaret. I haven't seen myself naked more than I've seen Margaret naked!"
"But her boobs look great," she adds. "She's got the boobs of a young girl. We went to the same doctor for everything… Margaret and I have two doctors, Dr. Mark Karolak for our neck up, our face, and for the neck down, we have Dr. Joseph Michaels. Good friends share these things."
Dolores is proud to rattle off the list of things she’s done to keep herself looking young, from Botox and fillers, to a facelift, multiple breast surgeries, a tummy tuck, liposuction, a Brazilian butt lift (to make her bum "rounded") and more, which will apparently play out onscreen later this season. Dolores' love of elective surgery rubs her boyfriend of more than three years, Dr. David Principe, the wrong way, though. On the season 11 premiere, he confronted Dolores over not telling him about her latest procedure until right before she went under the knife. The moment of friction left some viewers wondering, are these two even compatible?
"Here's the one thing: David rides motorcycles," Dolores offers. "David has, I think, eight motorcycles. Badass, sexy motorcycles. I'm not in favor of motorcycles. They scare me. I've only been on his motorcycles once. He has a love for it, but I know that's a big part of his life. Me, plastic surgery is not like, I'm not walking around looking like a botched woman, but I am not aging gracefully. I'm going to tweak and do what I want to do and that is who I am."
"I have to take his love for motorcycles and he has to take what I do," she adds. "And too bad. Too bad! You know, the funny thing is, though, I always thought, like, he can never use my plastic surgery for the excuse of, ‘Well, I'm not getting engaged…’ or, ‘I'm not going to take it to the next level because you do a lot of elective surgery…’ because I waited."
Dolores and David have been circling the idea of engagement since she first introduced him on the show, but a ring has never materialized on Dolores’ finger. The longer her finger remains bare, the more comfortable she becomes with the idea of never getting married again.
"What the viewers don't get about my connection with David is the amount of independence that we both have from each other and still have the relationship that we have," she explains. "You have to understand we're at different parts of our lives. We're not a young couple and we both are very set in our ways. We both like our space. We both love our independence and as much as people would like me to say, ‘Oh, I want more for you,’ I have everything I want right now."
"That's a hard thing for people to grasp, because if I wanted more, I would go find it," she notes. "But I really like being with someone who isn't so dependent on me, that if I want to get up and go away for five days, I can just go and he's fine. And he's going to be in the same spot I left him."
Dolores and David live in separate houses, a continued conscious choice for the pair. Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the world last March, Dolores was living in a Manhattan apartment four nights a week.
"I may wake up one day and say, wow, you know what? Maybe I really want to get married, maybe I want to live with somebody full-time," she shares. "Maybe I want something different in the relationship department. And then I'll have to weigh out if this relationship is going to fit me for my next part of my life. But for now it works."
"I mean, think about it: I've been divorced 22 years," she points out. "That's a long time. I got divorced when I was 28 years old. I've raised my kids. I've been successful. I own my own home. I have so much going for me that I don't always want to share that with somebody. And when you're in a relationship, when you're married, when you're engaged, you share so much more of your life. And right now I'm enjoying and I'm living off of what I built."
Dolores says the last 25 years have revolved around everyone but her in her life, as she looked after her son, Frankie, 22, and daughter Gabrielle, 25. Both kids are just out of college.
"I'm a little afraid of what I don't know," she confesses. "I was only married for a short time of my life, but I know my single life very, very well and I'm not unhappy with it. And not to be like, if I want a boyfriend, I don't have a hard time meeting someone if I wanted to."
"I'm enjoying myself right now," she adds. "And any other guy is going to be like, ‘No, I want you sitting next to me watching TV.’ Well, I don't f**king want to watch TV with you!"
Complicating the picture for fans of RHONJ is Dolores’ ever-present ex-husband, Frank Catania. The two seem to be soulmates, leaving the audience a bit confused as to why they’re not together. (They split while Dolores was pregnant with Frankie, after she discovered Frank had been unfaithful.)
"What the viewers also have to see is, when were we ever apart?" she asks of her ex-husband. "A big part of Frank and I are together, it's just not on an intimate level, right? So Frank and I vacation together and Frank and I raised our children together. And the divorce didn't mean that that was going to be the end of our relationship. It's just like, just being with your best friend and having that best friend, that business partner, that co-parent in your life for the rest of your life."
Dolores says she and Frank will never, ever get back together in a romantic way (and says they’ve never been intimate since their split). People just need to accept it.
"The life I've built works for me," she says. "And it's been very hard and I hope I'm an inspiration to other people, not to let peer pressure, not to let what people think you should be doing in your life, define you. Because at the end of the day, somebody once told me, you have to live with your own decisions. At the end of the day, before you put your head on that pillow, you are the one you walk in your own shoes, you live with the decisions you've made. So don't ever let anybody sway you the way they think you should go."
That level-headed approach to life has made Dolores a fan-favorite on Housewives over the last 5 seasons. She's the voice of reason who’s unafraid to offer some tough love. Currently, Dolores is caught in the middle of the Teresa Giudice vs. Jackie Goldschneider saga, a falling out over unverified rumors about Jackie’s marriage and an analogy about Teresa’s daughter.
"Nothing gets accomplished while emotions are high," Dolores muses. "Emotions do not run in rational channels, that's the first thing I learned in therapy when I was getting divorced. So I always realized that when you're emotional, nothing's going to get solved. When you're emotional, you can't make very good decisions, things get worse. You can't take personally what's going on during an emotional fight."
At this point, both Teresa and Jackie are unwilling to apologize to one another -- something the other women desperately want to see happen so that they can all move forward together. Both Jackie and Margaret hinted to ET that resolution is on the horizon, but it may not be satisfying for the viewers.
"To be satisfied is like, all perception, right?" Dolores asks, before confessing she doesn’t "see a big love connection" between Teresa and Jackie. The drama took an unexpected turn last week, when Margaret’s husband, Joe Benigno, told the other husbands he had heard the same rumors about Jackie's husband cheating on her that Teresa was spreading. Things come to a head when the cast heads down the Jersey Shore, where a shouting match between Margaret and her husband quickly gets overshadowed by an explosive confrontation between Teresa, her brother, Joe Gorga, and his wife, Melissa.
"You don't even know!" Dolores teases. "That's an epic scene. That's crazy. It's crazy, and the emotion, the visceral reaction, the raw hurt. At one point, somebody turned to me -- I'm not going to say who it was -- and then they said, ‘I didn't think I still had that in me. I didn't think I still had those feelings inside of me.’ And Frank is trying to be a mediator in between, we're trying to make things stop getting more out of hand than they are. And it's so funny because Frank and I, a divorced couple, are sitting and cleaning up cheese at the end of the night. And we just look at each other like, ‘Holy s**t, what just happened?’ I can tell you that even the producers were emotionally drained."
"It was emotionally draining," she reiterates. "It had lot of sadness. But I also feel like it was very cathartic, which a lot of times situations like that are. But what always scares me is when it airs and those emotions come back up."
Dolores has a few emotional moments for herself coming up, too, first with a health scare (everything would seem to have turned out all right) and then with a screaming match of her own. In the trailer, she proclaims to the group, "Everyone’s talking behind my back. I want to leave! Go f**k your f**king selves!"
"It's such a Jersey thing, right?" Dolores remarks of the moment. "You'll have to stay tuned, but here I can explain my frustration. In my life -- and the way I live it is -- if you're my friend, I consider you family. I've given a lot of freedom to my friends to be very vocal on my relationship, because if you're my friend, then you have the right to an opinion of what's going on in my life. You don't have to understand it. I'm going to listen to it. I'm not going to get mad at you for saying something maybe I don't want to hear, because that's the respect I have for you, but when you cross a boundary, and it's no longer to my face, now you've lost that respect from me."
"Now, I get like an animal," she continues, "because I give so much to my friends. I give so much respect. I give so much leeway to them to have opinions on things that they may not understand."
Dolores hints that some of the women would rather question what she's doing with David behind her back rather than be upfront with her about it, causing friction.
"I am an independent woman," she notes. "I have been through a lot. I haven't always had somebody holding my hand, or a man in my life, or things like that. I'm going to let your young selves have your opinion, because I respect you, but then don't push it -- and don't do it the wrong way. I'm a very good friend, but don't push to me."
Dolores says the heated exchange is simply her "old school values" coming to the surface.
"Maybe some people won't think it's a big deal that my personal business was spoke about in front of strangers," she says. "It stays within our circle. You don't talk about me in front of people. That's when I get, like, Patterson, and that's when you see a lot of my old school values, which I still want them to exist among the younger population. I hope that they take why I got mad, and understand why I got mad, and use that same blueprint for their own lives."
The moment she’s upset about, however, happened without her present, so she’ll be tuning into the show to see if her reaction was as warranted as she believed it to be at the time. Also tuning in will be Danielle Staub. The former RHONJ star (whom Dolores memorably called "scumbag") watches the show weekly, live on Instagram.
"Danielle, let it go," Dolores pleads. "Move on from it. That's all I can say. Just move on from it. It's over. Shut the lights and close the door, Danielle. That's what I say to her."
Dolores and Danielle share a bit of a sliding doors history, for if Dolores had not turned down the show in season 1, Danielle may have never been on it. According to Dolores, the lineup was originally her, Teresa, Jacqueline Laurita, Dina Manzo and Caroline Manzo.
"From what I remember, they went around to a group of hair salons," she recalls. "They were looking for reality shows and they asked for a group of women that go out and we would get our hair and makeup done every Thursday."
"Thursday nights was girls night," she says. "We would dress up like Sex and the City and go to Pastis and have a few cocktails … and then go home and it was simple. We'd walk up and down the Meatpacking District, we would meet people, but it was all about being able to put on our Jimmy Choos."
Dolores says at the time (it was 2008), she really didn't understand the allure of reality TV or what they would be filming, so she pulled out at the last minute and the producers went back to the salon where they found the other ladies and stumbled upon Danielle.
"Timing is everything," she says. "I've experienced so much since then. I have so much more to offer and I've grown so much over these years that it is my time. It's definitely my time."
Dolores thinks it’s the show’s time to shine, too. She promises season 11 is the strongest season the cast has delivered in years.
"I just want to say that going into season 11, out of a pandemic, not having an international trip, not having anywhere to go, barely having a restaurant, all we had was just us. That was it. And we were scared," she says. "What will they make of us? What will become of us? There's no big events. ... What do we have? And I am very proud to say that just us was more than enough."