I think we all learned something when Lauren Conrad was told she'd always be "the girl who didn't go to Paris."

By Claire Stern
Updated May 27, 2020 @ 11:45 am
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Being a fashion-obsessed teenage girl coming of age in the aughts meant that I had a vested interest in The Hills. Throughout the summer after my sophomore year of high school, Wednesday nights were sacred. I’d curl up on the couch at 10 p.m. sharp, ready to indulge in 30 minutes of pure, unadulterated drama in the form of Lauren Conrad’s sartorial adventures as a Teen Vogue intern and Les Deux bottle-popper in Los Angeles. Sure, there were some unforeseen hiccups along the way — her roommate-turned-frenemy (Heidi Montag) unexpectedly quits school to become a club promoter, an old flame (Jason Wahler) with a seriously unfortunate chinstrap resurfaces — but essentially everything was copacetic until one fateful meeting with her boss, West Coast editor Lisa Love, in season two, episode 1.

In case you’re unfamiliar (which, c'mon), the scene unfolds like this: After a short and definitely not sweet summer in Malibu with Wahler, Conrad (wisely) decides to end her chaotic tailspin of a relationship and returns to the office, where an extremely salty Love is waiting to discuss why in god’s name Conrad passed on her internship offer. “Lauren didn’t go to Paris,” she says to fellow closet-dwelling intern Whitney Port, within earshot of Conrad. “She’s gonna always be known as the girl who didn’t go to Paris.” A savage, Miranda Priestly-esque burn. Thirteen years later, it still stings.

Allow me to back up for some context. In the season one finale, Conrad is very much on the fence about her summer plans. Sure, she and Wahler had intended to rent a beach house together, but that was before she was handpicked for an internship working couture week in Paris. Paris! To quote Love, “Paris is probably the single most important place to ever be in the fashion business.” Montag and Port both tell her to take the opportunity, but still, Conrad is unsure, much to the dismay of every viewer ever. She proceeds to share the news with Wahler, who begrudgingly listens before responding with an accusatory, “Are you going?” Reader: This is gaslighting. Of course, we all know what she ultimately did. The episode ends with Port meeting Love at the airport instead of Conrad, and Conrad arriving at the Malibu house, where Jason is waiting, conveniently at sunset. Ah, young love.

There’s a reason why this specific moment in the pop culture pantheon continues to plague me — it struck a particular chord. Despite having religiously watched The Hills in my late teens, I too neglected to go overseas because of a boy — albeit London instead of Paris for junior year overseas — and, spoiler alert, we broke up too. Like Wahler, my ex halfheartedly encouraged me to go. Like Conrad, I was blinded by my feelings and decided to stay. Years later, I still wonder if a different outcome would have seismically altered the course of my life. I ultimately landed a coveted job in fashion and feel generally fulfilled, but sometimes, I can’t help but think, will I always be the girl who didn’t go?

And yet, I did go to London. And Paris. Conrad eventually went to Paris too — in season three for the Crillon Ball, opting to take the trip instead of spending time with a different smooth-talking fuckboy by the name of Brody Jenner (live and learn). Had I left New York that year, I also likely wouldn’t have secured an internship at a glossy magazine, à la Conrad, that would lay the groundwork for the aforementioned full-time gig.

Still, the line will forever hover in the confines of my mind as a constant, nagging inner voice. Conrad may be a successful fashion designer and New York Times bestselling author, but who’s to say what could have been if she had just bit the bullet and taken the damn internship in Paris? All I know is that now, several weeks into quarantine, I’m unsure when it will be safe to travel again, let alone to Europe. And there it is, like clockwork: Always choose Paris.