"I'm still so confused because while she's labeling me that, she's actually doing that," Dolores scoffs to ET over video chat. "She justifies what she's doing by saying, 'I just want to be there for her as a mother...' I didn't hear any mom advice in those conversations. I heard, 'These girls are not your friend. I'm just to let you know I'm here and I'm Margaret's friend, but I'm here to be your friend, too.' Like the whole thing just confused me."
Jackie's point was that Dolores seemed to be on Jennifer's "side" to Jennifer's face, and then Margaret's "side" to Margaret's face. Dolores says two things can be true at once.
"Now, I would never make friends with someone I wasn't friends with in the middle of a fight with my other friend, does that make sense?" she asks, a direct shot at Jackie, who up until the affair drama exploded had never been close with Jennifer.
"I am friends with these people before their fights," Dolores adds. "I always remember, as history repeats itself, they're going to get back together. Now, your friendship with that other person is tarnished. So I care about everybody. I care about Jackie very much. You know, I was there for her when she was fighting with my friend, [Teresa Giudice in season 11], but I was friends with her. Her and I were friendly before that fight."
Dolores is in a unique position in the RHONJ ensemble, as she considers herself to have a "meaningful relationship" with every single cast member.
"The key word is meaningful," she reiterates. "I brought Jennifer on the show. I actually introduced Jennifer, kind of brought her in with me, was close with her. And my dad -- which always sticks in my head -- says, 'I taught you to be a friend when it's hard to be a friend. I didn't teach you to be a friend just to people when it was easy to be.'"
"Me continuing a friendship with someone that isn't defendable isn't always the easy route, but I can't deviate from that," she says. "That's a part of who I am. So it's not about flip-flopping, and it's not about why don't you take a side? 'Cause you have no balls? Everybody knows I have balls, OK? It's not about anything like that. It's about my beliefs."
Dolores is sticking to her guns even as the season airs and these wounds reopen, with commentary from her castmates and the peanut gallery of viewers flooding in online. In recent interviews, Jennifer has claimed to not know if Dolores is her true friend and has even gone so far as to label her a "jerk."
"It came out of nowhere," Dolores says of Jennifer's change of tone toward her. "It's almost like, did someone tell you to pick a fight with me and you'll become more popular? I'm not understanding this. There's nothing... I'm not understanding this. I haven't clapped back on social media. I haven't spoke about it. I did ask her to talk about it. She does not want to."
Dolores doesn't seem happy that Jennifer has seemingly opted to double down rather than work out whatever issues she has with her longtime co-star. After Dolores admitted she would seek fashion advice from Margaret over the rest of the cast on Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, Jennifer posted what Dolores interprets as a "silly shade" on Instagram, which called out the fact that Dolores borrowed jewelry from Jennifer's family business in the past.
"I'm like, 'I could've s**t-talked you to f**king kingdom come on that Watch What Happens Live,'" Dolores fires off. "People are like, 'Where's Dolores? Why isn't she answering to this?' No. 1, I don't want to kick you while you're down. It's not my way, but I will never forget the way I've been treated."
"I'm still waiting for a good answer on why she took this stand, because I look like an idiot saying, 'Oh, yeah, Jennifer. I'm standing here by you...'" she continues, noting she's keeping tabs on this situation and plans to address it at the soon-to-tape cast reunion.
"She said I'm friends of hers on the show, but not in real life? OK. Oh, just for the show? I'm sorry. Did she think being her friend gained my popularity?" Dolores sarcastically asks. "No, that wasn't the No. 1 on the list. Not No. 1, 2, 3 -- it's not even on the list!"
If anything, Dolores proved she can be a good friend to Jennifer after Jennifer asked her for "more" amid the flip-flopping/"bad friend" callout drama. On last week's episode, Dolores showed up at Jennifer's house to help counsel her through her issues with Bill. Dolores speaks from experience, having gone through a very similar situation with her ex-husband, Frank Catania, Sr. She, however, chose the opposite route from Jennifer: divorce.
"I can describe everything that you go through when that happens, and every feeling," Dolores confesses. 'There is the like, 'Am I not good enough? Am I not pretty enough? What did I do wrong? Should I have done more of this? Am I not cool? Do I not dress cool? Am I not as good as that person?' You just have so much doubt about yourself, and then the pit in your stomach, you feel like somebody punched you in the stomach and left their fist there."
"I walked around with a sick stomach for probably five years," she says. "It was really hard, because I didn't have the remorse or the, 'Let's make this work.' It couldn't work. It was not meant to work, my marriage. However, if I would've stayed married, it would've destroyed me."
In a recently aired chat with her parents -- Lawrence and Valerie Spagnola -- Dolores revealed untold realities of her marriage to Frank that finally explained to the audience why this seemingly perfect couple couldn't make it work.
"I couldn't do anything right, I couldn't cook right. I couldn't clean right," Dolores recounted, hinting at emotional abuse. "[My daughter] Gabrielle, 3 years old, put her toys away, things were being broke, screaming..."
"You have to think of the kids," Dolores tells ET of her philosophy of working through her pain. She and Frank share two kids, Gabrielle, 26, and Frank, Jr., 23. Dolores was pregnant with Frank, Jr. (aka Frankie) when she and Frank, Sr. split.
"You always have to think of the kids, and are you better off for them apart or together," she repeats. "Is it selfish to stay together? I remember when I was walking into a therapist's office with both my kids, and there was so many angry kids in the room -- she was the school therapist from my high school. I didn't know about therapy. I just chose this woman because I knew her, right? Because if you get in a fight in school, you've got to go see her. I'm like, I'm going through a divorce. I don't come from a place where they believe in therapy. You suck it up and you just move on. This was more for me to handle, because I couldn't... I didn't want to tell my family. I didn't have a lot of friends."
"I go to this therapist, and I'm walking through-- it's not a divorce therapist. She was a child psychologist, which was the right person to go to, which I didn't realize. It just happened to be," she recalls. "That's all I knew. I'm walking in. I have Frankie in a carrier, he's probably two weeks old, and I have Gabby, who's 3 years old, hanging on my leg. Right before I walk into the door, this kid comes barreling out, punching the walls, kicking, crying, and his mother was so brokenhearted behind him. I sit down, I get around them, and ... I said to the doctor, 'What do I do to not make my kids go through that?'"
"She said, 'Don't fight in front of them,'" Dolores continues. "From that day, I knew if him and I could not stay together without fighting, if he couldn't behave, and I wouldn't be waiting by the window to see where he was or wondering when he was coming home, or him coming home and being not happy to be there, our kids would not have grown up the way they did. It had to be done. Now, Jennifer had a different situation. They thrived together. You know? I have so much respect for her and him for that."
What Dolores went through, and how she chose to navigate it, informs how she's approached Jennifer's situation. A mini-controversy in season 12 is how Dolores repeatedly reminds Jennifer not to cry. In moments, it's come off as chastising, but Dolores says it's not that way at all.
"I wanted Jennifer to be strong for the kids, because the kids feed off their mom's energy," she explains. "I wasn't being insensitive, because I've cried in a closet more times than anyone will ever know. I'm just saying, if the kids see you're OK, they're OK. I just was being a friend to Jennifer."
"When I was telling her don't cry, her and I had a conversation off camera, and I said, 'Jennifer, just be strong. You have the best husband, the best life. Your kids are beautiful. Don't walk in there saying you weren't happily married, because you are. I don't care what anybody says.' I see that she is, right?" Dolores reveals. "I said, 'Walk in here with your fake chin up and your head back and your nose in the air,' that's what I meant. She knew I was doing that. She told me to remind her not to cry. On camera, it looks like I'm telling her, reminding her not to cry, because I'm doing what we spoke about, and she never-- and then she says I was a 'mean friend!'"
Dolores hopes Jennifer is focusing on the takeaways she's offered along the way about how to work through a marriage in crisis. She and Frank now have what seems like a strong (albeit platonic) relationship, but Dolores says a lot of work went into making that their reality.
"It does take two, and Frank's been very great at agreeing with the things that I always said, like stay friends, we don't have to fight," she shares. "One person has to eat some s**t, and the other person eats some s**t."
"I say to myself, when I was going through that and the frustration and the stress and what will my kids grow up to be and how can I be a single mother?" she thinks back. "I barely graduated high school. Like, what am I doing? I'm so scared. I was. So, it was like throwing a baby in the pool and saying, learn how to swim. I had to reinvent myself. I had to invent myself -- not reinvent. I had to invent myself."
"I couldn't do it with anger, I couldn't do it with remorse, regret," she continues. "Choose your battles. And most don't even don't even battle. It's not worth it."
Dolores says part of that progress has been learning to get her temper in check, though as hard as she tries, "Paterson Dolores" sometimes surfaces. Her alter-ego came out in her disagreement with Jackie over the "bad friend" comment, with the two women getting into a near-physical altercation.
"It's like a blind anger," Dolores says of moments like that, which have popped up from time to time during her tenure on RHONJ -- her "Welcome back, scumbag!" fight with Danielle Staub comes to mind.
"One time I got mad because Jennifer broke a glass and was going to stab Melissa [Gorga]," Dolores adds as another example. "Now, you know that set me off. I don't know why that was a trigger for me..."
Helping to ground Dolores these days is her new boyfriend, Paulie Connell, an Irishman who runs an electrical services company. A mutual friend introduced them near the tail-end of filming season 12 last summer. They're now (mostly) living together, splitting time between Dolores' family home and Paulie's pad. "Solo Dolo" gave up the bachelorette townhouse she moved into while filming season 12.
"I'm very happy," Dolores gushes. "He's a great guy, and he puts a lot of things into perspective and the way he talks to me about what's going on. He'll hear me on the phone, or he's watching the show, and I love his point of view about things and it's fun. It's just nice and fun."
Dolores isn't putting any pressure on the still new-ish relationship, but admits it feels different from her past romances. She met Paulie after splitting from her boyfriend of nearly five years, Dr. David Principe. While the pair had deep love for one another, their lives were incompatible. David, an OBGYN, was all about work, while Dolores is a social butterfly who spends her spare time at charity events. David only made rare appearances on RHONJ, and Dolores says the two no longer have a relationship of any kind.
"We have nothing against each other, he's a great guy," she says. "He's an amazing doctor, and he seems pretty happy. ... It was kind of like we just parted ways and peacefully and that was it."
Paulie didn't film for season 12, but Dolores imagines he'd be down to join the crew in season 13, which would likely mean guys' outings with her ex, Frank. The husbands on RHONJ often take over entire episode acts with their antics.
"Listen, he has an ex-wife and children, too," Dolores shares. "Normal people have to get along as life goes on for the sake of a family. It doesn't have to be an intact family. It could still be a family."
Dolores' actual family is at the center of her story on the show currently, with the 51-year-old and her siblings rallying around their ailing mother, whose lifetime of bad eating habits caught up to her in the form of a heart blockage.
"She was a walking heart attack," Dolores remarks, going on to note that she's doing better, even if the Spagnola siblings have to trade off doing searches for hidden cookies in Valerie's house.
Dolores' family struggles will continue to play out as season 12 airs -- the now-veteran of reality TV is getting a kick out of the audience still getting to know her, now more than six years into the game. "In the beginning years of me starting, I was a little underplayed... I think maybe a lot," she cracks. "The more you get to know my family, the more you'll get to know me."
She's also looking forward to the "best day of [her] life" airing, a charity softball game she hosted to benefit Maimonides Cancer Center. After that airs, though, a darker moment comes to TV: The big Margaret and Teresa blow-up on the cast trip to Nashville. Teresa gets so frustrated by Margaret asking questions about her now-fiancé, Louie Ruelas', past, she dumps the contents of a dinner table on her castmate.
"Teresa was upset that she blew up like that," Dolores shares. "I can understand the frustration of the questions, and Teresa is a very... doesn't like questions. I know enough not to question Teresa on her life, on things much smaller than Louie. It's just an unwritten law that we have."
"I tried to explain that to Margaret, but Margaret had asked about things that she heard about," she adds. "And this is where we end up."
Dolores points out that Margaret and Teresa don't really know how to operate with one another, because they have different expectations for what's fair game. It's perspective Dolores says she has, though.
"That's why I could be friends with everybody, because I understand why this one's like this," she surmises. "This one wants to be open, that's fine. It's not personal if Teresa doesn't want to be open about it. It's not personal at all. It's the way she deals with things. I'll always tell the story, the week before she was going to jail, she planned a lunch with me the week after that. I'm like, not sure we're going to be able to make this one, but I'm going to say yes."
Dolores looks at Teresa's approach to what can be heavy situations as a "superpower."
"I call it the superpower to be able to detach yourself from a situation and an emotion," she says. "That is a hero superpower. I used to do it a long time ago. I spent most of my life doing that to survive, and then you soften up. I think that when you fall in love, or somebody gives you compassion and softens you, you're not able to do it as much as you used to."
As for where the group goes from here, Dolores says, "I don't know," especially when it comes down to Teresa and Margaret. The former has said she can't see being friends with Margaret ever again.
"There's days where I say, no, and there's days where I say maybe, but never a hard yes," she notes. "I think that there could be maybe some type of cohabitation in a room. However, never a friendship."