Ashley Jacobs meant it when she called the time she dated Thomas Ravenel “the worst year of my life.”
"I picked up my life and I uprooted myself," she tells ET. "I’ve never lived anywhere other than California, [in] my hometown. Everything was safe to me. I no longer felt safe. I wasn't in a good place, I'd say, myself, and then you add, you know, a tough relationship and you add his drama with the mother of his children. And I mean, that's a hard situation ... just in general with anyone."
The 34-year-old registered nurse went from living anonymously in Santa Barbara, California, to living quite publicly on Bravo’s Southern Charm, where her tense interactions with Thomas’ ex, Kathryn Dennis, launched her into the reality TV villain hall of fame. Looking back, Ashley now admits that Thomas’ ties to reality TV were actually part of her initial attraction to him.
"I’d [be lying] if I didn't say that there was some element of it that was fascinating," she confesses. "I was intrigued, it was different. It's different than the last person I dated, you know? He has a different life, and I was interested, and I was curious, you know? Makes good stories. Not a lot of people can say that they've done that in their life."
"We're very similar in that we like to take risks, the adrenaline," she continues. "We like skydiving and jumping in with sharks, and bungee jumping -- you name it! Anything that's high risk, that's fun … I was like, I wonder if I could do that?"
At the time they met, in spring 2017, Ashley says she was looking for a life change, with plans in place to move to Las Vegas.
'Southern Charm's Ashley Jacobs Explains Her Return and Why It Didn't Go as Planned (Exclusive)
"I went back a few times to [Charleston to] visit him and I thought, could I make this work?" she says. "This is a great town, I'm a registered nurse. I can work wherever I want … At some point I thought, no, I can leave my life. I can get a job out here, yes! I know someone who has an in, not into the reality TV show, but has an in into a town where I can kind of sit back and let him take me around, and show me the best places to live, the best places to eat. And, I like this person!"
"He said, you could go to Vegas and this probably won't work out," she adds. "Or, you can try this -- and this might not work out -- but you can always go back to Vegas, you’re can’t always get this opportunity. So, I followed my heart. It was a role the dice. I thought, you know what? What do I have to lose? Look where I got myself."
"It was dark, and it was really lonely and, yeah, I was really lonely," Ashley shares. "I lost a lot of weight. I wasn't taking care of myself mentally … I suffered from depression, situational depression."
"I didn't have the support of my family," she admits. "They were very disappointed in my decision, and so the only person I had was Thomas. He was my support system, we were really in the trenches together. We really were … I stayed by his side because I needed his support, because I wasn't getting support from anyone else, not even my family."
"I think people would have rather seen me break off and separate, 'cause we've had a couple breakups," she goes on to say. "And as soon as we broke up, I felt a lot more support from people, immediately. But I didn't have anyone else to really relate to. No one to talk to about what we just went through. And so I stuck by his side and, and he stuck by mine... I guess you could say that."
The couple stayed together for well over a year, finally calling things off for good, Ashley says, when she left Charleston, South Carolina, and moved back to California in February of 2019. That’s nearly six months after Thomas parted ways with Bravo in the wake of various allegations of sexual misconduct brought against him, all of which he’s denied. Ashley suggested those accusations were the final straw.
"I mean, if you're dating someone and there's allegations [against them], you can imagine just that in itself [takes a toll]," she says. "It concerned everyone that was close to me."
'Southern Charm' Cast Sounds Off on Ashley Jacobs' Return (Exclusive)
"That was really difficult," she continues. "That's not normal. Then you add custody, and then you’re adding children, you’re adding the show, and two people in a relationship just trying, you know? We were still trying to figure it out. It wasn't meant to be."
Thomas and Kathryn are currently locked in a tense custody battle over their two children, 5-year-old Kensie and 3-year-old Saint.
"[Thomas] was my best friend and my support, [but] I realized that I needed to find some new friends," Ashley says. "We both agreed that the best thing for me to do was to go back home. He was the first one to say it. We still talk of course, yeah. But I mean romantically, I don't know…"
Ashley still speaks to Thomas almost daily, confessing that, today, he feels almost like a father figure to her. She doesn’t see them ever getting back together, and she can’t see herself moving back to Charleston.
"It left such a bad taste in my mouth, really," she says. "There's some trauma related to it. As much as I look back at pictures and I think, what a beautiful place, I still can't help but feel [like] that really sad, lonely, depressed person."
"I don't ever wanna go back to that place," she reiterates. "Like I said, it was the worst year of my life. I don't think I could make it any better. I tried. It didn't work."
Ashley is back to work as a nurse in Santa Barbara, rebuilding her life with a little help from former Southern Charm star Landon Clements. While the women never appeared on the series together, the shared experience instantly bonded them. Though, Ashley would like to shut down another reason why people think they’re so close.
"'Eskimo sisters' or whatever -- she never did anything with him!" she claims. "Thomas said, 'I wish she would've. I wish she liked me, I wish she would've,' but yeah, not Landon's type. So, that's the funniest thing. It wasn't anything weird, we weren't dating the same guy at all, although Thomas wished he could've dated her. So yeah, although we didn't film together there's the support that I have."
"She did have some insight, and that's why we connected," she notes. "But she's also a really fun girl, and she's become one of my best friends. Now she lives in Santa Barbara, down the street from me, half a mile."
"We just do things together that are good for the mind, body and soul, and that's what I really needed coming back to get to a good place, emotionally, mentally and physically," she adds. "She's just, by chance, there and wants to do all of the same things I do, so she's become a sister."
As for what’s next for Ashley, she admits she’s open to more reality TV (though she’s unlikely to actually sign onto a show) and casually dating as she searches for "the one."
"I think the thing that I see a lot of on social media, I get a lot of comments, like, 'You're going to be terrible mother,'" she admits. "You're right, I'm not a mother, but I really want that for myself, too. I hope that is what's next for me, with my own family and the right person, and someone who's never watched Southern Charm, or even heard of it. That's my fear, actually. Just, don't Google me. Maybe I should put off dating until the dust settles and you can't Google me. I don't know what's in the works. But yeah, I want a family for sure."