But when PEOPLE caught up with the OG of the O.C. recently, she made it clear her relationship with Ayers is in the rear-view mirror.
“I think everything happens for a reason and [the breakup] was probably forced a little bit sooner than I wanted it, but here I am in a new relationship,” she said.
On Monday’s episode, after David Beador called Gunvalson “a f—— pig” and a “scumbag” during a heated screaming match, accusing her of knowing that Ayers lied about having cancer, she immediately called her ex and left him a voice message about the continued fallout of his scandal lies because “Brooks put me in this godd— situation.”
Even now, Gunvalson, 54, says she is still upset at the way her cast mates treated her over Ayers’ cancer scandal: “I do make mistakes, but I love hard in my life and I believe when someone tells me something that it’s the truth. If I’m guilty of that, I’ll take that all day long.
While she says she “loved Brooks with all my heart,” she also admits that she doesn’t regret the relationship.
“At that time of my life, he was good for me,” she says. “He taught me so much. He is a good man – but he didn’t like me on the show and he didn’t like what the girls did to his reputation. They accomplished what they were hoping to. They set out to destroy him.”
While she admits “he did it a lot on his own, too,” she insists, “we are what we are. We all make mistakes. We forgive and move on. Keep forgiving and keep moving on.”
For her part, Gunvalson has definitely moved on, dating retired homicide detective Steve Lodge. “He’s got a beautiful heart and he understands my life,” she says. “He’s a respectful man. He’s got four kids and four kids. My daughter loves him, which is one of my criteria. He treats me good. We’ll see what the future holds. Only God has the plan.”
She hopes the future includes her daughter, Briana, overcoming the health issues that have plagued her over the last four years.
“She’s having surgery on July 27 to continue to try to find a diagnosis,” she says.
While she wouldn’t disclose what kind of surgery Briana is having, “we’re really positive and hopeful that we can find a diagnosis. We don t have a diagnosis in four years. She has something – we just don’t know what.”
‘They Can’t Shoot at Me Anymore’
Despite the heat from both costars and the summer sun, Gunvalson says she was enjoying her first trip to the Hamptons (Zarin almost had her helicoptered in when she got stranded at a Connecticut airport before the party) and seeing her fellow Housewives, including Real Housewives of Atlanta star Cynthia Bailey, Real Housewives of New York star Ramona Singer and RHONY alums Kristen Taekman, Cindy Barshop and Kelly Bensimon.
“We’re like a sorority,” she says. “We all want the best for each other. We have all been through hell filming a reality show and understand what it’s like to throw your life on reality TV. But at the end of the day, we’re all people and we have sensitive feelings.”
As Gunvalson moves into the next chapter of her life, she says, “I want to surround myself with people who believe in me and love me. A lot of these cast members on RHOC don’t, and you know what? I don’t care anymore.
“I’m resilient. They want to shoot at me and they can’t anymore because I know who I am. I’ve been on 11 seasons. So sit down. I want to be better, not bitter.”
The Real Housewives of Orange County airs Mondays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.