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I believe there is a two-word phrase for something that is always just out of reach for you and which you cannot ever seem to get. (It is not Tantalus or anything having to do with Tantalus, please).

It’s like a girl you like and want to date, and it almost happens a bunch of times but never materializes. You’d say, “She’s my __ __.”

I keep thinking dark horse, but that’s not it. Any help?

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It's not a flattering description, but "white whale" ala Moby Dick might work. –  Jeremy Jan 2 '14 at 20:35
I know what you're thinking, and it's just on the tip of my tongue... It's much more concise and idiomatic than "just beyond my/his grasp," but means the same thing, right? Or is it more in the vein of "close call"? –  user61184 Jan 2 '14 at 20:41
@Jeremy, I’d say describing the girl as your white whale is definitely a sure-fire way to make sure you never get to date her! –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 2 '14 at 22:12

11 Answers 11

I can't think of a way to express that without borrowing from literature, so I would probably use 'Holy Grail'. When referring to something other than a girl, it'd probably be 'White Whale'.

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The one-word adjective is elusive, meaning "difficult to find, catch, or achieve," as in "she's my elusive dream-girl".

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actually, "dream girl" (sans 'elusive') might just be the best answer –  Gus Jan 3 '14 at 18:16

This does not quite answer your question (because it is not two words), but the phrase that comes to mind is "so close yet so far away," "so close but so far away," or some other very similar variation of that phrase.

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There are several possible two-word phrases. But if you kept thinking about dark horse, then maybe wild-goose chase is what you're looking for.

From the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary,

wild–goose chase noun
a complicated or lengthy and usually fruitless pursuit or search

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You might be thinking of the brass ring. The brass ring is originally a reward sought by some carrousel riders, who would try to grab it as they pass by the dispenser. The dispenser also held iron rings, so luck and timing played a big part in the chance of success.

You can find the description in multiple places, including here.

The brass ring is considered elusive, hard to get, a challenge to obtain, and seekers of the brass ring may often end up with the iron ring instead. As a consolation, the iron ring is as worthless as grabbing nothing, by the way.

The brass ring is now a metaphor for a goal that provides ultimate fulfillment in an endeavor and is only achievable by a few.

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A Math geek would tell you to say

She is my asymptotic fantasy.

Concerning a future career that you would never attain:

Becoming another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs will be my asymptotic failure.

Concerning the goals of a corp:

We are always trying to reach beyond ourselves. We place goals before us that are barely within our reach. Our goal of becoming the largest corporation in the world is our asymptotic goal.


Perfection is an asymptotic goal.

From dictionary:

n. A line whose distance to a given curve tends to zero. An asymptote may or may not intersect its associated curve.
[Ultimately from Greek asumpttos, not intersecting : a-, not; see a-1 + sumpttos, intersecting (from sumpiptein, sumpt-, to converge : sun-, syn- + piptein, to fall; see pet- in Indo-European roots).]
asymp·totic (-ttk), asymp·toti·cal adj.
asymp·toti·cal·ly adv.

Ref:Article in Wikipedia.

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As a single word, "she's my unobtainable muse"

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Could you please include the definition of "muse" in your post? It does not mean what you think it means. –  Josh Jan 2 '14 at 21:33
@SoylentGreen, google "unobtainable muse" and you will see this is a common usage. (Cf. robinfrederick.com/poets-and-muses, forums.thefashionspot.com/f81/here-muse-54023.html, books.google.co.jp/…, scotsman.com/news/here-is-the-muse-1-682682) –  virmaior Jan 2 '14 at 21:45
Here are two quotations from the OED: "▸a1393 Gower Confessio Amantis (Fairf.) viii. 3140 (MED), My muse..seith it schal be for my beste..That y nomore of love make. c1450 (▸c1393) Chaucer Scogan 38 Ne thynke I never of slep to wake my muse, That rusteth in my shethe stille in pees." They imply a sense of unattainability vis-a-vis. def. 2 the allusive usage in application to a person. –  virmaior Jan 2 '14 at 21:53
Good points. In that case, I respectfully suggest that you modify your answer to "unobtainable muse" as you have written in your comment, as that two word phrase carries with it much more meaning than the standalone word "muse", and thus answers the question much better. Is there a reason you chose "muse" and not "unobtainable muse" in your answer? –  Josh Jan 2 '14 at 22:00
@SoylentGreen, changed. Reason, I originally just put muse: I thought muse was more obvious than it is. –  virmaior Jan 2 '14 at 22:04

How about impossible dream ?

The song The Quest by Mitch Leigh contains the phrase, though I don't know if he coined it. This azlyrics site has the words as sung by Elvis Presley.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear the unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To write the unwritable wrong
To be better far than you are
To try when your arms are too weary
The reach the unreachable star

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will be peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world would be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

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You can say,

She's my mission impossible.

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You're looking for, "he or she was the one I always wanted, they were my white buffalo".

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Hmm. Welcome to ELU.SE. Unfortunately the system has determined that this answer needs some attention: could you edit it to expand on why "white buffalo" is the answer? There are many people, I'm sure, who have never heard the expression. –  Andrew Leach Jul 30 '14 at 6:38


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Welcome to ELU. This isn't a two-word phrase. It's not a word which OED has found evidence for in order to include it. Leth- suggests the act of forgetting rather than attempting to remember. –  Andrew Leach Aug 31 '14 at 17:30
What makes you think this is an answer? –  Chenmunka Aug 31 '14 at 17:42
This is an answer, but all caps, and no definition, makes it very poor quality. Nerizon try editing it inline with how other people submit answers. –  dwjohnston Aug 31 '14 at 21:52

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