The many important lessons my new friends (a.k.a. The Real Housewives) taught me during lockdown
Selena Vyle watched literally hundreds of episodes with her mom, and it was an education unlike any other
Warm Blanket is a series of personal essays from Canadian writers and artists reflecting on the pop culture that has brought them comfort and coziness during one year of the pandemic.
Forced into isolation for the past year, I've grown a lot as a person. The most important lesson I've learned?
I was never better than you because I didn't watch The Real Housewives.
When the pandemic hit last March, I moved back in with my parents for a few months and found myself spending my days on the couch with my mother as she caught up on "her friends," The Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills.
I used to have a chip on my shoulder regarding the series in all its incarnations. "I can't believe you watch that trash tv." "I don't need to see a bunch of rich drunk people who are so out of touch with the real world." "Was that salad cat really getting yelled at by that crying lady?"
But suddenly I found myself very invested in whether Denise Richards had an affair with Brandi Glanville, in watching Dorinda Medley bully Tinsley Mortimer out of New York, and in how Sonja Morgan's feet survived her dancing on a broken mirror in open-toed shoes, stone-faced with a giant decorative flower on her head. I needed to know more. I needed to know the history of how we got here — the FULL history. So I got myself a Hayu subscription and started each season from the very beginning.
Every night, seven days a week, my mother asks me, "Who are we watching tonight?" Even though she's already seen most seasons, she can't get enough and neither can I. She brings the popcorn and we dive into the history of "her friends." There is nothing cuter than my mom giving me everyone's backstory, Googling everyone's net worth, and yelling at the TV every reunion while they all yell over each other. It's like we're there.
I started this journey to catch up on a piece of pop culture, but watching The Real Housewives has transported me into another dimension where I'm allowed to ignore all of life's responsibilities and forget about the fact that I can't travel to Antigua or Morocco or South Africa, or even out to dinner with my friends where we can throw wine in each other's faces after we serve each other with cease and desists.
As escapist as it's been, after watching literally 42 of the show's 79 seasons, I've actually learned a few life lessons, which I'd like to share with you ... now!
Lesson 1: Take care of your finances
In the early years, we see many of the Housewives go through hardships caused by the financial crisis of 2008, and the aftereffects are felt for several seasons. Tamra Barney and Jeana Keough couldn't sell houses, Cynthia Bailey's husband kept diving into bad business deals and losing money, and Teresa and Joe Guidice went to PRISON for tax fraud! The true inspirations were Vicki Gunvalson, whose life insurance business not only remained stable but outgrew her home office (she actually got ME thinking...should I be selling insurance?), and after Gretchen Rossi's rich daddy fiancé passed away, she made lemonade by using her newfound stardom to start her handbags and makeup line. She maintained her financial autonomy by refusing to marry her boyfriend Slade Smiley until he settled his debt. If only Cynthia had held off on marrying Peter. Her mother and sister were right to consider hiding their marriage license.
Lesson 2: You can't trust anyone
The amount of flip-flopping these friendships go through is enough to give you whiplash. NeNe Leakes has fallen out with every one of her besties, Lisa Vanderpump dumps anyone who catches on to her manipulations, and the Jill Zarin/Bethenny Frankel breakup has destroyed my faith in lasting relationships. I've never experienced such ping-ponging between best friends. Most of my friendships are Ramona Singer/Sonja Morgan level, where we bicker and argue, but we always have each other's backs. One thing this show makes clear is that when you talk behind someone's back, it will hurt everyone. It's no one's business if Adrienne Maloof used a surrogate or if Jody Claman's luxury boutique sells secondhand Hermes bags. I've learned to never repeat what I'm told, and always go to the source instead of playing telephone. (And by learned, I mean I'm trying to learn.)
Lesson 3: Everyone's a singer
If you decide one day you'd like to record a track, just hop into a recording studio and let autotune work its magic! Jo De La Rosa, Luann De Lesseps and Melissa Gorga did it, and so can you! The song doesn't even have to be about anything! And if you're Mary Zilba or Porsha Williams, go ahead and sing "Amazing Grace" live. Just please, no more Kim Zolciak tracks.
Lesson 4: Everyone is going through something
The show very much feels like rich people problems and manufactured drama, but every now and then we take a dive into some very real universal problems. Peggy from the OC was the first to make me cry as she opened up about her struggles with postpartum depression. Season 2 of Beverly Hills gave us the first truly tragic event as we discovered Taylor's marriage was an abusive one. And widows Carole and Dorinda's trip from New York to London gave us a deep look into the reality of grieving the person you loved the most a decade after losing them. These displays of humanity are few and far between, but they serve as a reminder that no matter how much money you have, we all still deal with life's curveballs and tragedies.
Lesson 5: Wear your heels EVERYWHERE!
These women really wear their eight-inch platform stilettos to construction sites, across loose gravel, climbing ladders onto boats and running up the stairs after pulling their boyfriend's best friend's wife's hair. As someone who works in heels, but makes sure to change into flats to and from the venue, I have nothing but kudos for these heroes.
Lesson 6: You only have one body, so take care of it
I'm being very serious when I say that the Housewives have inspired me to take charge of my own health. OC's original cast member Kimberly Bryant, a skin cancer survivor, was the first to leave the series after a relapse scare, forcing her out of the California sun and into the Chicago winds. And after seeing Yolanda Foster's Lyme Disease diagnosis and Heather Thompson handle her son Jax's multiple medical issues, I've been working with my doctor to test and diagnose my own chronic illnesses, which I likely would have ignored if not for this series.
Lesson 7: You're never too old for a boytoy
We've all seen divorced men in their 50s and 60s living it up with women decades younger than them (hey, Kelsey Grammar!), so it's incredibly refreshing watching the likes of Countess Luann, Sonja Morgan, Brandi Glanville and Carole Radziwill have their fun with fellas in their 20s. Congrats to these women for proving that you've still got it at any age.
Lesson 8: You can't tell Heather Thompson nothin' m*ther f*#%er!
That's it. That's the whole thing.
Read all 12 essays from the Warm Blanket series here.