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Paris Hilton, Nick Carter Split Up

07/23/2004 at 04:00 PM EDT

Paris Hilton, Nick Carter Split Up
Sara Jaye/ABACA
Simple Life star Paris Hilton and Backstreet Boy Nick Carter ended their romantic relationship on Thursday, Carter tells PEOPLE exclusively.

"This is the time of my life," he says. "I'm back in the studio ready to go on tour with the guys (Backstreet Boys). I want to be free to date other people and I got tired of all the rumors" of trouble in the relationship.

Hilton's rep confirms the split happened Thursday.

Carter, 24, and Hilton, 23, met at last December's Billboard Music Awards. Before long, the singer was joining the hotel heiress for red-carpet rounds at the Sundance Film Festival and other high-profile events – not to mention his sexy cameo on her FOX reality show.

Still, their careers kept them apart. Carter reunited with the Backstreet Boys for an upcoming album and tour, while Hilton was away in Australia shooting the movie House of Wax.

The split doesn't come as a total surprise to one person close to the couple. Paris's sister Nicky told PEOPLE earlier this year: "Paris will settle down eventually. But she just has such a little attention span to concentrate on a relationship" right now.

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