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No sex, no flirting, no dating: Welcome to my manbbatical

Toronto comedian Claire Brosseau who ends her year-long "Manbbatical" / "he-tox" / "dong diet" on May 18; as she wrote on her daily, year-long blog is photographed at her home in Toronto, Ont. May 16/2011.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The momentous end of Claire Brosseau's "manbbatical" - a year abstaining from men - involved a mani/pedi, lots of hair removal, sushi with 15 girlfriends and a visit to church.

The "boy crazy" Toronto comedian ended her self-imposed dry spell this past Wednesday after documenting 365 days of (fairly) celibate living on her bright peach-coloured blog.

Ms. Brosseau, 34, broke many of her 10 rules over the year, but not the cardinal one - sex. Other rules included no kissing, no dates (including lunch and coffee), no "flirty" texts or e-mails, suggestive status updates or tweets, and no Facebook or Twitter-stalking men.

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"I started because I seem to always make bad decisions regarding men and dating and I needed to get my life in order," said the comedian,who entered therapy, hit the gym, cleaned her house, nurtured her friendships and re-started her career over the year.

While she didn't find her "Prince Charming" during the challenge, the woman is contented: "Perhaps if I had, I wouldn't have come out of this in the same way and I am happy with how it all turned out."

After piles of bad boys, "casual" relationships and subsequent heartbreak during their 20s, women like Ms. Brosseau are taking a conscious hiatus in their 30s to recalibrate, break damaging patterns and focus on their own lives.

Her break and that of other 30-something women represent a younger and perhaps sadder version of Elizabeth Gilbert's much-swooned-over journey in Eat Pray Love. Having weathered much disappointment in their 20s, the women are licking their wounds before getting truly serious with men.

Holly O'Brien, 35, took her first unofficial he-tox four years ago when she was enrolled in an alcohol recovery program that discouraged dating during the process. "They wanted you to really focus on yourself - for that person not to become your new addiction," said the Montreal actor-turned-producer.

Ms. O'Brien, celibate for two years, is now embarking on another time-out: "I had hooked up with guys left, right and centre, and guys who weren't that great for me. They were all different and yet they all treated me terribly. I realized, what's the common denominator? That's me."

Now mending her heart in therapy, Ms. O'Brien is turning down offers until she finds a guy she actually likes. "I've never been happier in my life," she says. "I live in the moment more, I like who I am."

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J.M. Kearns, author of Better Love Next Time, says that while daunting, manbbaticals have many "unexpected upturns."

"They'll think more clearly, remember what matters to them, pick up the real dreams that were pushed to the side because the other person didn't reinforce them or made fun of them, they'll get healthier physically, start looking like themselves stylistically and they'll start being funny again," Mr. Kearns said from Cape May, N.J.

The he-tox may very well be symptomatic of a generation that dates and has sex casually, including women in their 20s who date with little expectation of marriage, family, financial support - or commitment for that matter. The silent, mind-boggling hope for many is that being low-maintenance will score you a commitment, from a commitmentphobe, no less. This rarely happens, and the price is paid emotionally.

"Many women these days don't have good standards for dating, sex or men, and a break can help them establish better standards," says Christie Hartman, Colorado-based psychologist and author of It's Not Him, It's You.

Mr. Kearns said that while a "buccaneer" attitude toward relationships is generational, it becomes dispiriting. "Many people in their 20s obviously want to sow some oats and have a lot of experiences but I think it's gotten particularly callous in the last couple of decades. Women, by trying to be like guys, don't always get the same rewards."

After watching Judd Apatow's Bridesmaids, Ms. Brosseau got depressed as she realized that most of her dating career mirrored the cringe-inducing noncommittal arrangement between Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm.

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"He's a jerk, and she says, 'That's cool, yeah, don't call me. Let's not go out.' There was no respect, but I was allowing it and inviting it to happen ... I just behaved as if nothing mattered to me, like I didn't have any expectations because I didn't want to seem too demanding."

It was the same low-self-esteem story for Ms. O'Brien: "It was definitely don't rock the boat."

The manbbaticals have left both women with unexpectedly traditional expectations. "I want to be treated gently. I want someone to treat me like a lady, and treat me with kid gloves at times," says Ms. O'Brien. "I would like to be pursued in a way that a gentleman shows interest," Ms. Brosseau says, enunciating "gentleman."

To be sure, some have criticized the comedian's project as being exceedingly self-absorbed.

"Most of the backlash that I've gotten is people saying, 'Get over yourself. You haven't had sex in one year? Big deal. For me it's been five.' Well that's you and that's great, but for me, that's not how I roll. For me, three months is a dry spell."

Ultimately, is hoping for a man at the end of the tunnel foolhardy? "If you're really trying to find out who you can be when you're an independent person not trying to be part of a couple, you have to be sincere about it," says Mr. Kearns.

Today, Ms. O'Brien realizes that gunning for respectful relationships this late in the game is risky: "The older I get, the less singles guys there are around," she says, weeks shy of her 36th birthday.

As Mr. Kearns puts it. "If you use up valuable years in the shallow end of the pool, you're not going to find out what might have happened in the deep end where there are more risks to be taken but also far greater rewards to be obtained. It's a way of sidelining yourself."

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