Lauren-Heidi Feud at Center Stage as The Hills Returns

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According to the New York Times, The Hills, which opens its third season on MTV tonight, is more convincing than Friends or just about any other comedy about female relationships because â€" as any young woman knows â€" those undying friendships die.

After all the superlatives, hugs and I love yous, the separations can be bruising. Unlike romantic heartbreak, in which the terms are ultimately subjective ("He's not that into me"), female friendships are commonly torched along rigid moral lines ("She's disloyal, selfish, manipulative and deceitful!!").

You can brood over this stuff for years

The spectacular falling-out of the two main stars of The Hills, Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag, has become a polarizing object lesson played out in the tabloids.

The reality show, which began as a spinoff of Laguna Beach, which starred Lauren, first followed Conrad's effort to establish herself as a young adult in Los Angeles.

But as a grown-up, the lovely Lauren Conrad proved no Mary Tyler Moore, and her youthful innocence and exuberance kept pulling her back to adolescence.

The second season gave up on maturity and let Lauren be the woman-child she is. The Hills rapidly found its footing when Heidi Montag, a trifling blonde known for her love of nightlife, her bust line and other superficial things, swelled to take up more emotional space.

Montag displayed an uncommon gift for sycophancy and self-sacrifice, which seemed like a sin when put in the service of the no-good men in her life, and a virtue when used to serve Lauren Conrad (or the publicity firm Heidi went to work for).

But by the season's end a Machiavellian figure named Spencer Pratt had decided to indenture Heidi to girlfriendhood. And she went along, to the dismay of Lauren, who was sad to see her friend's true nature - but mostly sad to lose her cheerful lackey.

As the new season of The Hills opens, Heidi is living with the vile Spencer but still pitifully imagining she might get back into Lauren's good graces.

Not a chance. The hard-hearted Lauren is crowing to her more boring friends about having moved on. For the single girl â€" that's Lauren Conrad â€" high dudgeon about disloyalty is one (annoying) way to keep more coupley friends on the hook.

Last season Lauren flew into F. Lee Bailey levels of bombast when she took to task a friend who had made out with a guy Lauren had dated.

Lauren cited a "code" that made the other girl's garden-variety flirtation unconscionable. Then she did the same to Heidi, making her feel beyond forgiveness for falling in love with a silly, flirty man about town.

This season Lauren outdoes herself in moral outrage, managing virtually to criminalize Heidi's alliance with Spencer Pratt by turning their Pinkberry relationship into a kind of RICO violation.

The couple, she says, has been perpetrating Internet calumnies â€" a Lauren Conrad sex tape rumor â€" against her. These tales have even made their way to Laguna Beach, where Lauren's righteous family shares her indignation.

What prison could hold the duo that wrought such havoc for the Conrads?

At this point in a young woman's life â€" when LC must either establish herself as admirable in her community, or become a laughingstock or worse â€" anxiety about reputation, friendship and romance is understandable.

But as a player in the repertory company of contemporary reality TV, which plays out in celebrity gossip publications too, the crusading Lauren is policed on one side by her reportedly strict parents and on the other by Us Weekly. This must be a particularly challenging line to walk.

It also offers some real-world suspense.

If a sex tape featuring Lauren Conrad exists, her career might be altered; MTV has a stake in that. On the other hand, if Heidi is a blackmailer who has invented this tape along with her evil consort, well, that's something potentially libelous too.

The hysteria that often informs friendships among young women shouldn't have to bump up against subjects like money, TV channels, careers and libel. That combination seems to thwart the healing process. When a girl goes through a friend breakup, after all, she usually cries to her mom.

"But she told everyone I'm conceited," you sob, and she says, "I know it seems like a big deal, but no one's really thinking about your problems."

Eventually that sinks in.

When you're Lauren or Heidi, though, the story shows up on the covers of the supermarket tabloids. "Lauren's side of the story!" one says.

Or "Why Heidi really loves Spencer!" Under these conditions it's probably much, much harder for the moms to explain it all away.

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Lauren Conrad Biography

Lauren Conrad and New Boyfriend?
A Laguna Beach alumna, the gorgeous Lauren Conrad has gone on to be the star of its spin-off series, The Hills. Back in her high school... More »
Laguna Beach, California
Full Name
Lauren Katherine Conrad

Lauren Conrad Quotes

Someone with a great sense of humor is the most important thing, and someone who really supports me in everything I do... I don’t ever want to make an excuse for trying to work hard and having my own life. I love a guy that supports that and loves that.

Lauren Conrad [on men]

I don’t feel girly without long hair! There is something so sexy about having long blonde hair. It’s so feminine.

Lauren Conrad