Teresa Gudice is happy. Like really, really happy. The Real Housewives of New Jersey star finally feels like her life is headed in the direction she wants it to, and after years of wrong turns -- from family drama and deaths, to legal troubles and a prison sentence -- the 48-year-old is ready for a fresh start.
"I was really depressed," Teresa admits to ET over video chat from her home, speaking of the last several years. "I was really sad. I've been through so much. Seasons 1 and 2, I started the show, I was like, this is great. They're just going to follow me and my friends around doing what I normally do. And then season 3, that's when the family came on. It was terrible. And then, all of the legal stuff. And then I lost my mom. I lost my dad. It's been a lot."
Teresa's beloved father, Giacinto Gorga aka "Nonno," died in April 2020, just weeks before cameras went up on season 11 of the Bravo hit. Giacinto was Teresa's last living parent; her mother, Antonia, died in 2017.
"When I started this season, I wasn't in a good place," she notes. "I had lost my dad. So yeah, it's hard. It's like, I miss them tremendously. It sucks. He missed my mom and he wanted to be with my mom, which I totally understand. And then I do really feel in my heart that my parents brought Louie to me."
Louie is Louie Ruelas, Teresa's boyfriend, a 46-year-old entrepreneur whom she went public with in December (they're about to celebrate seven months together). While the pair frequently posts photos together on Instagram, they've kept the details of their romance under wraps and are taking things slow. Teresa says it’s still to be determined if he'll appear on RHONJ.
"We’re getting to know each other," Teresa explains. "It's between me and him. But I'm not hiding him!"
"He's amazing and I'm really happy, so that's it," she adds, revealing the two had quite the rom-com "meet cute," bumping into each other at the Jersey Shore while she was on a walk with friends.
"I was at the Jersey Shore, where I rented a house for six weeks and he rented a house," she shares. "He's never been at the Jersey Shore before. He rented a house for a week, and he was leaving the shore house and that's how we met … at the same street I talked to my parents to ask them to send me someone amazing. I said, 'Ma, Papa, send me someone that is everything that you ever wanted for me. And everything that I want,' and I put it out in the universe. I really did. Everything I wanted. A couple of weeks later. I walk by, and I see Louie."
The couple fell fast for one another, and are already integrated into each other's lives (they've reportedly purchased a home together). Teresa says she knew she found the right guy by seeing how he treats her daughters, sharing an anecdote from Milania's 15th birthday last month.
"They like him, they do like him," Teresa says of her girls. "They're happy for me. They're really happy for me. Like, a couple of weeks ago, it was Milania's birthday, and Louie wrote her a nice message and texted her happy birthday and everything … and she texted him back, 'Thank you so much for coming into my mommy's life and making her happy.' It was like, it's her birthday and she was talking about me?"
"I started tearing up with her," she continues. "We had a moment when we were alone and I was like, it's your birthday, and you're talking about me? That really meant a lot."
Teresa says her four daughters -- Gia, 20, Gabriella, 17, Milania, 15, and Audriana, 12 -- continue to be her guiding light in life.
"They make me so happy," Teresa gushes. "They really do. They put up a smile on my face every day, and that's what keeps me going, is my daughters, they really do. They went through a lot, also. Some of them needed therapy, but I was always there, hands-on, and thank God we're all in a good place. They're really happy. Joe's happy. So we're all happy."
Teresa and her ex-husband, Joe, finalized their divorce last fall after 21 years of marriage. The couple separated eight months prior, after the U.S. government deported Joe to his native Italy upon the completion of a 14-month prison sentence related to various fraud charges. (Teresa served her own, nearly year-long sentence in 2015). Prior to their split, Teresa was adamant that divorce was not an option, but Joe’s deportation changed her thinking.
"I wasn't going to just take my kids and move to Italy," she says of what ultimately brought her to the decision to divorce. "They grew up here. They want to be here, and ... you never know, if my daughters said, move to Italy, then maybe I would've done that. But my kids did not want to move. They don't even speak the language. They had been through so much already."
Teresa understands that some people still question her decision after doubling down on standing by Joe through everything, but adds "no one should say anything" until they’ve walked in her same shoes.
"We both put our daughters first, we really do," she says, adding that she and Joe had the "easiest divorce," using a mediator rather than lawyers to get everything settled as quickly as possible. She says her ex is now living in the Bahamas and "doing great."
"Joe is the father of my daughters, he's an amazing father [and] he's in my life," she notes. "He did the right thing by me. Everything that happened to me, he didn't mean for it to happen to me. He really didn't. He didn't want any of this to happen. But yeah, the divorce, the easiest divorce in the whole universe. I definitely recommend anybody getting a divorce, think about your kids, and [how that] person is going to be in your life the rest of your life. So, try to just take it easy. Don't spend that money on lawyers. Try to split up everything with each other and take it easy!"
"Save that money for yourself instead of the lawyers," she quips, calling her ex "a class act." Still, Teresa maintaining a united front with Joe appears to cause some friction with another Joe in her life, her brother, Joe Gorga. As teased in the season 11 trailer, Joe and his wife, Melissa, explode on Teresa over Joe Giudice, with Melissa launching a cheese plate in the air as Joe exclaims, "My wife is 100 f**kin' percent right! You gonna defend him? F**k that piece of s**t. He put my mother in a f**king grave! You understand that?!"
"You're going to have to tune in and see how it plays out," Teresa offers of the intense moment, but adds that she, her brother and Melissa are "good," hinting that this argument is nowhere near as damaging as previous battles between the Gorgas and Giudices on the show.
"I always think about my parents and I'm never going to disappoint them," Teresa says. "I'm never going to disappoint my children. … I always get along with my brother because I always want my daughters to get along with each other, with their sisters."
Overall, Teresa describes season 11 as "explosive," and she’s not wrong. The premiere features one of the most tense Housewife-on-Housewife arguments in franchise history between Teresa and Jackie Goldschneider. Check in with ET after the episode for Teresa’s unfiltered thoughts on the fight.
"You guys have been with me how long?" she asks, teasing what goes down. "What you see is what you get. I am very true, I think I'm as transparent as they come. So yeah, I am being true to myself."
"There's a lot more," she continues. "It's not just me and Jackie, there's so much more. … It's an amazing season. I can't wait for everyone to watch."