Any fan of Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise who has ever had to justify to a spouse why she would want to watch a show about women fighting, backbiting and clawing desperately for whatever image suits them in the moment knows there's no choice but to capitulate.
The defense is fractured and unconvincing. The spouse has counterarguments. "It's making you seem dumb." The battle inevitably ends in an exhausted plea, in which you barely recognize your own high, wavering voice: "It's been a long day. I just want to sit and watch my show and talk about friends that aren't mine. Please."
Over the years I've even questioned my own fandom. Does it say something about me that I find this entertaining? Does it say something about women? Why do so many of us keep watching?
Heather Thomson, star of "Real Housewives of New York," offered me absolution on Tuesday while she was getting her hair and makeup done at the Indigo Spa at Hilton Head Health.
"It's a real-life soap opera," she said. "But people get to make judgments and explore their own ethics, morals and values while watching."
Thomson, in town through Thursday, is the featured speaker at this month's "Insparation" series for guests of Hilton Head Health. Dressed in light-blue ultra skinny jeans, gray suede heels and a stylish gray pullover, the businesswoman, wife and mom of two seemed wholly in the moment, displaying the ready and wide smile she has become known for on the show. She is smart, articulate, fun to hang out with and real -- she absolutely seems like someone who would say "Holla!" organically.
Over the years, the show has become known for its cadre of wannabes who seek to parlay their new fame into inauthentic business ideas, money grabs that they cling to with the sincerity of QVC hosts -- think Tamra and Vicki's "Wines By Wives," Sonja's dreaded toaster oven or anything Teresa Giudice proclaims is "fabulicious."
Thomson, however, had made a name for herself before the show as a celebrity stylist, director of design for Diddy's Sean John line, designer for J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez, and creative director for Beyonce's House of Dereon. In 2008, she founded Yummie Tummie, a line of shapewear that has since expanded to include active wear and denim and has undergone a name change, Yummie by Heather Thomson, to reflect its growth.
She's clear about why she joined the cast of RHONY -- the seventh season of which premieres April 7.
"For my business."
Thomson is a quick thinker and not shy about sharing her opinion, which can sometimes rankle the other women on the show.
"I have a take-charge personality, but it comes from the right place," she said.
Even though she sees the show as fun and having its own intellectual value, the attitudes and motivations of her fellow cast members can sometimes get to her.
"It actually sometimes disappoints me," she said, "because I'm invested in my relationships. ... I throw myself into everything 100 percent."
Viewers, on the other hand, are free to form no-stakes relationships with Thomson and the women in the show. We can discuss their friendships in the same esoteric and analytical way that people talk about baseball or politics or even in the catty manner of the "Housewives" themselves, without any risk of screaming, prosthetic legs getting thrown or table-flipping.
In considering what we think about Ramona, Bethenny and Luann and the way they treat each other, we're deciding what we want our friends to think of us. Am I the person I want to be? What would my friends say about me?
Thomson knows exactly what her friends would say about her.
She is at Hilton Head Health because her friend since fifth grade, Michael Tompkins, the CEO of the wellness retreat and weight-loss spa, invited her to the island.
"Heather struggled with her weight after pregnancy," he said, "and created Yummie Tummie as a result. I wanted her to share her story with guests."
Another friend since fifth-grade, Remembrance Staber, a fitness expert who works with Thomson on Yummie's active wear line, was also hanging out Tuesday, getting her makeup done and answering "Yes!" when I asked if Thomson has always been as outspoken as she appears on the show.
Long-term friendships like this -- in which each seeks to help the other -- are rare, even more so when one is a celebrity.
"Heather's like a comfortable pair of pajamas to me," Staber said. "She wrote in my yearbook 'We'll be friends forever.'"