Ahhhhh, The Real Housewives. Watching them are among my most shameful guilty pleasures. But hey, I'm not the only one. Julia Roberts, Anderson Cooper and Brad Pitt are fans. And for all I know, Jane Goodall, Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton and the Pope himself are closet watchers. It's hard to say, because most people who watch aren't as brave as me by admitting they're fans. They keep it to themselves.
The creator, Andy Cohen says that watching their antics should earn us college credits in psychology, sociology and human behavior. I completely agree, and after months and months of donning my lab coat and taking feverish notes, I've learned some things.
Let's just call them "cautionary tales..."
1) When in a conflict, shut your mouth for
once and listen to the other person
Ramona: "You're not listening to me!"
Sonja: "YOU'RE not listening to ME!"
Both break down crying.
This scenario happens every week amongst the housewives. These ladies spend a lot of time talking and expressing their feelings. Only problem is, they're not so big on listening to someone else's long, drawn out problems. Hey, they're busy ladies! They don't have hours to just sit and listen. They have a massage they need to get to, and that blowout party to prepare for.
2) Don't be a "firestarter"
The Countess Luann loves spreading that piece of juicy gossip
Gossip is fun. I get it. It makes us feel instantly better about ourselves in two ways: a) talking about other people's embarrassing foibles diverts attention away from our own faults; and b) people love it when you share that tantalizing tidbit about someone else. By having access to the secret information, it makes you look like you're "in the know." It's interesting. It's slightly scandalous. It's something other than the boring daily grind of kids, jobs, work.
But some of the Housewives turn it into a high art form -- they're the firestarters. They love the power of lighting that match and watching the fire spread.
Look, some spiritual leaders actually say that gossip, rendered fairly and in limited doses, can actually be spiritual -- because we can learn from other people's pain or failures.
But to not pass on the tasty morsel takes character. It takes self-control, self-esteem and compassion for the subject of the gossip. These are traits that are in short supply in many of these women. But they ignore this at their peril, because one of the painful side effects of being a chronic firestarter is eventually nobody trusts you anymore. And who wants that?
In a painful moment on the show, Real Housewife Lynn's teenage daughter receives family eviction papers on national television
Oy vey, over the years many, many of these women have gone bankrupt and lost their mansions, which it turns out were way, way beyond their means. Of course, living the "simple life" is not exactly conducive to $100,000 shopping sprees and vacation mansions in East Hampton. And I'm sure living that jet-setting lifestyle is intoxicating and even kick-ass fun a lot of the time. But to get to their top tier world -- and to stay in it -- requires a certain style. Expensive style. And once you're up there on the tightrope, the view is grand, and most people don't want to go back down to be with us minions. So they take out second and third mortgages. They keep up appearances. Until it all inevitably comes crashing down.
4) Crying "I was just being honest!" after saying
something impossibly cruel is not an excuse
Ramona is prone to saying things like: "I've got hundreds of friends, and you don't have any!" She tends say these things after several glasses of her favorite, Pinot Grigio.
And then, when called on her cruelty, she throws up her hands defensively and says: "I was just being honest!" Sigh. Really? Lordy -- don't they teach basic manners in boarding school anymore?
5) Don't be a 'record keeper'
The Beverly Hills housewives say: "Who did what to whom again? Who am I supposed to be mad at? Whose side am I on in this one? I can't keep it straight..."
Lordy, these ladies are notorious record keepers. Sometimes it feels like during the rare times they actually listen to one another speak, they've got their feelers out for something -- anything -- to take personally. What follows is weeks and weeks of righteous indignation on steroids.
What's missing here is basic, simple communication. Things like "Think before you speak." Or fixing miscommunications in the early stages. These ladies really seem to get off on the drama.
It's almost as if, since they have few "regular problems," being as rich and famous as they are, that they have to create drama where none need exist. It's really frustrating to watch, and it's gotta be exhausting.
6) When you've wronged someone,
take ownership of it right away and sincerely apologize
"I called her to apologize, but SHE wouldn't apologize for what SHE said!"
This is another common scenario amongst these ladies: Housewife #1 says something slightly mean to Housewife #2; Housewife #2 is shocked and offended, stomps off and proceeds to gossip all over town about "what SHE said." Housewife #1 is now upset that housewife #2 was so oversensitive and told everybody about the kerfuffle. Housewife #1 calls #2 to try to fix the problem. Housewife #2 is happy that Housewife #1 is finally going to apologise. But Housewife #1 says: "I don't have anything to apologize for -- I was expecting YOU to apologize!" More tears, more ridiculous drama about nothing, more gossiping to everyone about how each felt she was wronged.
I swear, sometimes you need charts and graphs to keep all of the stupid miscommunications that were blown up unnecessarily, spreading collateral damage far and wide -- and all happening at once.
It's such a pathetic waste of energy.
7) Learn what "age appropriate" dress means
Vicki, the self-crowned Queen of Coto de Caza, Orange County
New Jersey housewife Theresa showing questionable taste in this outfit. By the way, she got thrown into the slammer for tax evasion (again, living beyond her means), and I'm assuming her outfits are a bit more modest now (in jail).
8) Don't constantly correct others and tell them
how they should live their lives
Orange County housewife Heather has a great life. She's smart, beautiful, has a rich plastic surgeon husband and two lovely kids. But she's VEEEEERY self-satisfied, and she tends to point her finger across the table and say very intensely: "You need to do (fill in the blank." She may very well be right. But that's not the point.
Wise teachers point out that unsolicited advice can sometimes be interpreted as an act of aggression.
This is an issue that can be a problem for me as well. I just want to "help" so I can tend to hand out advice when none was requested. I'm working on it.
One more thing about Heather: she and her husband are building a dozens-of-millions-of-dollars custom mansion overlooking the ocean in Newport Coast. It will have 15 bathrooms. FIFTEEN BATHROOMS.
Um, OK, hope everything turns out for you lovebirds, Heather (see #3 above).
9) Be good to the help
The pampered, rich housewife says to the exhausted, overworked Mexican immigrant woman giving her the massage: "You have NO idea how much I need this..."
Oh, Lord. Needless to say, the exhausted, overworked Mexican immigrant woman giving the massage has never RECEIVED a massage in her life -- and she has little hope of ever receiving one.
And we don't really need to say which woman REALLY needs a good massage, now, do we?
I've actually seen a couple of the housewives say the exact same thing to a different exhausted, overworked Mexican immigrant woman lovingly giving her the massage. There are no words to describe how inappropriate, laughable, insensitive and just classless this is. Ladies, if you're lucky enough to be in the position to receive a luxurious massage from a hard working member of the working classes, just shut your trap, count your blessings and give her a gigantic tip.
10) If you want a long, happy marriage,
don't go on a reality show
OC housewife Tamra and her (now ex) husband Simon
These two actually seemed pretty happy when they first joined the cast. They seemed truly in love. But Simon, introverted by nature, was never comfortable with the cameras. Two years later, we actually saw the moment when the marriage ended with a flurry of curse words in the back of a limo. It was quite sad.
Which leads me to the saddest story of all: Bethenny and Jason. Bethenny Frankel is a strong personality but she let her guard down and fell in love with Jason -- a good man. They married on TV, had a baby on TV, built their new life together on TV.
Jason supports Bethenny after she gave birth. A sweet, tender moment...but it IS on TV.
Their divorce only 2 years later was catastrophic and humiliating for Bethenny. And there have been countless other divorces on the show.
It's not rocket science.
Sharing your life? Good.
Oversharing at the expense of privacy and your marriage, seeking fame and fortune ABOVE the dignity of your family relationship? Not so good.
Marriage is hard enough if you're just one of the regular people.
So, I admit it...as long as Bravo continues to lift the curtain and let us peek into the living rooms of people who willingly let us in with a smile -- I don't have the willpower NOT to watch.
Having said that, I don't think anyone should air all of their dirty laundry in this way.
It's not healthy.
But how can I NOT tune in, if they're willing to do it?
As long as they're lifting the veil, I'll be watching.
But I still hope for a happy ending for all of them.
Maybe they'll trip upon this list and heed my advice...