When viewers first met Ashley Darby on The Real Housewives of Potomac, she was in her mid-20s, navigating a new marriage to her much older husband. Flash-forward nearly a decade later, as a mother of two and multiple marriage scandals later, fans are watching her become independent as she gets from under the guidance of her estranged husband, Michael, and in her own home that she’s proudly funding. It’s a scene many fans were rooting to see out of Ashley. But the journey has been difficult.

She’s struggled in her external relationships outside of her marriage due to Michael putting her in situations to defend. Viewers will never forget her and their unique relationship being the center of conversation, with Michael’s alleged philandering and questions about his sexuality running rampant. Now, that’s in her rearview mirror as she spreads her wings.

Ashley’s been known to meddle in her co-star’s marriages. It’s something that, as she’s grown past Michael, she regrets, citing experience as her best teacher. Now, more than ever, she’s focused on curating meaningful relationships with her family and co-stars, which is why she can look at Robyn Dixon’s ongoing questionable marriage to Juan Dixon through a different lens. 

In her chat with Blavity’s Shadow and Act Unscripted, Ashley opens up about her ongoing separation from Michael and whether that’ll lead to divorce. She also dishes on her co-stars’ storyline and her role in the group in Season 8.

Congratulations on Season 8. You’ve been on the show since its inception, and a lot is going on this season, and luckily, it’s not all surrounding you, as in past seasons. So, in the season opener, we see you as part of this girlfriend’s circle, having a very tough conversation with Robyn about what has transpired publicly with Juan. You were one of the first people to speak your opinion about Robyn and Juan’s relationship in earlier seasons. And we saw that infamous restaurant scene with her getting in your face. So how are you registering this full circle moment now with Robin and one knowing that you told her your concerns in the beginning?

Ashley Darby: Well, as I’ve gone through my own experiences, I realize that when I first approached Robyn, I can’t say it wasn’t genuine. I didn’t genuinely care about her at that moment, and my delivery to her was harsh. I know you can only speak really from your own experience. And at that point in my life, I was newly married. I was blissfully happy. And I just was like, ‘Why are you not with somebody better than that?’ So I just came down hard on her. And with experience being the best teacher, I have learned that there are complexities in relationships. So I know she loves Juan, and I know that she cares about him. And at the same time, I understand that when you have kids especially, and when you’ve been with someone for a long time, it does make it hard to fully see what’s really before you. What I’m thankful for is that Robyn knows that, especially with the things I’ve shared with her, she knows that what I said when we sat down to talk was because I actually do care about her. So, whereas before, I was just being messy and making judgments about her life, at this point, I really do care about her. And I see the person she is. I appreciate the person she is, and I really do want the best for her. And I think she heard that. I think she thought she saw that now, which is very different from how I was the first time.

So you’ve been honest and said that obviously, now hindsight is 20/20. So, with your history with Michael and everything playing out so publicly on the show, what were you hoping to get through to Robyn aside from caring about her and wanting the best for her?

AD: Gizelle [Bryant] and I talked about this on the phone actually a few days prior, that sometimes you really just have to see things for what they are. That as much as you love someone, it’s possible to love them almost from afar. And you have to look out for yourself first. And one thing about Robyn is she is very selfless. She thinks about her kids. She thinks about her parents. She thinks about Juan, and she thinks about everybody before herself. And when we had that conversation, I wanted her to see that there’s a difference between being ride or die and someone literally riding all over you, on top of you. So, from that perspective, that was what I was hoping she would see.

Now, speaking of Michael, we see in the trailer and the first episode that you guys are going through this long-term divorce or separation. And we will see that play out throughout the season. But you do mention that there is a financial security in him that you are afraid to let go of. You love him, and he’s the father of your children. Is there anything else you feel will be displayed that shows why you are so bonded to Michael besides what we’ve already seen?

AD: Well, as the season goes on, my life goes on. This is real life, real-time for me. I had my first anniversary since I moved out while filming. And there were emotions there that came up that I didn’t even know I had. I’m actually getting emotional right now, even thinking about it. There was just the date was so impactful to me in that moment, and I didn’t expect that reaction. So it’s still so psychological for me. And yes, financially, I do take care of myself. I really do. Michael doesn’t pay any of my bills. He helps with the children. But I take care of myself. But there is this fear, I guess, that I have been holding on to about ‘What if something happens?’ Or ‘What if I don’t succeed?’ And those what-ifs have kept me clinging to this relationship, and I’ve been working on it with my therapist, with my meditation. I just came from a meditation retreat in the Appalachian Mountains, for example. I am trying to relinquish that fear that I’ve been holding on to, the fear of being on the side of the road with my stuff, with my mom, and things that happened when I was a kid. So there’s all these things just churning out as I’m making this very big life decision.

It’s been fun and empowering to see you step out on your own and live in your new, beautiful home. So, as viewers, we are proud to see that journey, and it’s terrific to know that you have the support of your family. We love Uncle Lump. We love your mom, Sheila. Sheila seems like such a great time. And we have seen you and your mom through your highs and lows. And looking back on previous seasons and the hard boundaries that you were sort of forced to set with her, or forced to deal with, or at that time, to try and save your marriage. Do you regret how things have played out on the show with your mom? Or do you feel as if it has only made you guys stronger?

AD: I definitely think it all happened for a reason, and it has made us stronger. My mom has learned a lot about herself, too. It was a very difficult time, especially with it being on the show. And I did ask my mom prior, I was like, ‘Mom, these are real issues between us. Are you comfortable sharing this?’ And she said, ‘Ashley, this is a part of your life. So, I’m willing to do dishes like delve into this.’ And we did it. And yes, we are so much stronger. We still have hiccups. My mom is still in a relationship that I think is very unhealthy as I am making this decision for myself [with my divorce]; I’m hoping maybe my mom is going to be inspired to do the same. But she’s her own person. And I still love her unconditionally. I love her with all my being. She’s so great, so supportive. And I think that we’re both just evolving in our own space. She’s going to be 60, so she’s a point of her own stuff, too. So we’re just both of us trying to figure out this thing called life.

Now, another relationship that’s been a roller coaster on the show with you outside of your mom and Michael — and sometimes with Robyn and Gizelle — was you and Candiace. When the show first started, you guys had this budding friendship, and we’ve just seen it take a dump. However, there have been some new revelations in recent weeks. And Candiace teased that the unfortunate fight we saw off camera brings you guys together. But I’m assuming that that happened after taping as well. So, what can you tell us about your dynamic with Candiace this season, or at least where you are now and your hopes for the future? Because I think you guys will be better together than apart. If you guys joined forces, that is the alliance we’ve been waiting to see on the show.

AD: Now, you know, I respect her so much, she’s incredibly smart, she’s very eloquent, she’s beautiful, she’s talented. I respect her so much on so many fronts. The only place where we differ a lot of times is just how she shows up and takes accountability for certain things; because she’s so good with her words, she can really hurt people. Her lack of being able to take ownership and admit that she went too far sometimes is what makes it so hard for me. We can really be homegirls. So things do get murky between us. I think that’s shown in the trailer. Things get very murky, and it gets intense. And then as things transpired with that very unfortunate incident, yes, I think we had sort of a moment of both of us have a cathartic moment where we just emoting and we just expressed ourselves. And I’ll admit, she’s been very supportive of me just evolving and growing amid the split from Michael. And I don’t take that for granted. So as much as we butt heads on some things, I think if we can learn how to focus more on what we have in common, we really could have a good friendship.

Well, we would love to see it. One area of contention for the friendship, or lack thereof, between Candiace and yourself, was your good friend Deborah last season. So how does that play out this season, and how do you reconcile Deborah telling you one thing about what transpired with her and Candiace’s husband versus what was shown on the show? And how does that affect you and Deborah this season?

AD: That’s a good question. Deborah definitely came in hot. I acknowledge that she came in really hot. She was hot on social media. She was hot on the show. If I’m completely honest, I really didn’t expect that. And nowhere did I see that turn of events, or I thought it would happen. The things that happened with Deborah and Candiace I sort of removed myself from that because Deborah is her own person, Candiace her own person, and I can’t immerse myself in that. They have said things about each other. Candiace called her a Sesame Street character and a few other things that you’ll see later on her.

The Sesame Street character was one for the books.

AD: I don’t disagree. But then here goes Deborah on Instagram, where she has Bert and Ernie as a meme. They’ve both acted like children at some points. So, the short answer is I remove myself. At this point, it’s in their hands. And I don’t agree with Deborah’s actions. I made that clear. Deborah and I, we’re not really on speaking terms, and we don’t really speak at this point. So, all that’s not my business anymore.

One thing that viewers do appreciate about you in between some of the more messy moments that you admit to is that you are fair. And last season, you made sure that you were vocal about your not agreeing with Wendy [Osefo] being attacked by Mia [Thornton] while others in the group ostracized her or made light of her having a drink thrown in her face. In my interview with Robyn, she mentioned that she couldn’t relate the situation to what happened with Monique [Samuels] and Candiace and that one was not that big of a deal while the other was. But you’ve clarified that physical altercations or using your physicality is not OK. How do we see the Wendy-Mia thing reconcile this season, if any? And where do you stand on the continuous physical fights on the show that have been happening? 

AD: I think you’re going to be very pleasantly surprised. I know I was the way that their relationship changed. It’s interesting. It’s very interesting. The turn of events that transpired for Wendy and Mia was unfortunate, but they did get to a place that I think all of us didn’t expect. So, it’s interesting. 

As for the ongoing issues, I feel like because we’re showing our real lives and because everyone is going through stuff, different things, whether it’s financially or in your relationship or in your career or whatever — everybody’s going through something. And it does change how we interact with each other. It changes what we have in common with each other at different times, which then affects how we communicate with each other. And that you’ll see too; you’ll see some people talking about things that maybe they didn’t know they really had in common before or couldn’t quite understand. And yet, the dynamics are just constantly shifting.

You are probably the youngest or one of the youngest in Housewives history. And you’re an OG standing in your franchise. As I mentioned earlier, it has been nice to watch you evolve. So what do you say about your evolution on the show, and what keeps you on reality TV at this point, aside from the check?

AD: It’s hard. I think that I’ve wanted to quit so many times. I wanted to quit with things that have happened in my marriage. I wanted to quit when I had my first child, and I was like, ‘How can I do this and be on this platform?’ But the challenge of it has always been something that I’ve relished in. I’ve learned so much about myself and what I can do from being on this show. Situations that I thought, previously, I would have run away from some confrontation or having to be honest about the fact that, at one point, I was with someone else while I was still married. Even though we were separated, to have to say that stuff aloud, I never thought I’d be able to do that. And as much as it pains me sometimes, as much as it hurts me, I do grow as a person on the show, and I connect with so many people who can understand and relate and sometimes feel inspired by what I’ve gone through. And that’s just like the ultimate thing. Being a human is hard, and if I can help anybody else in any way, as so many people will help me, then that’s just it’s very rewarding.