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There is I believe a two-word phrase for something that is always just out of reach for you but you can't ever seem to get (and it is NOT Tantalus or anything having to do with Tantalus, please).

It's like a girl you like that you 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 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 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 at 22:12
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8 Answers

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 at 18:16
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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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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. –  Soylent Green Jan 2 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 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 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? –  Soylent Green Jan 2 at 22:00
@SoylentGreen, changed. Reason, I originally just put muse: I thought muse was more obvious than it is. –  virmaior Jan 2 at 22:04
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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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Tantalizingly: Teasing; tempting, but beyond reach. CED: in such a way as to be tease or be frustratingly tempting, as by being inaccessible, out of reach

Google books produces 7,010 results for tantalizingly close

Examples: Negro with a Hat : The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey By Colin Grant

To see grandeur they would have to close their eyes and imagine themselves transported to the tantalisingly close but unobtainable lavish homes of the ebony aristocrats up in Harlem's exclusive enclaves, Sugar Hill and Strivers Row.

Necessary Lies By Eva Stachniak

Nowhere else was the West so close, so tantalisingly close, so very much within reach, but the Wall, crowned with coils of barbed wire, with pieces of broken glass lining its concrete edge, looked unmoveable

Star Texts: Image and Performance in Film and Television

The star is tantalisingly close and similar, yet at the same time remote and dissimilar. Further, the star is a legitimate object for the desire of the viewer in so far as the star is like the viewer, and an impossible object for the desire of the viewer in ...

Hired: For the Boss's Pleasure Bundle

Staying in Paris with Luca would be part dream, part nightmare. He was tantalisingly close, but every time she tried to make a move he shut her out.

Out of reach: Fig. unattainable.

I wanted to be president, but I'm afraid that such a goal is out of reach.
I shall choose a goal that is not out of reach.

  • She's tantalizingly close.
  • She's out of my reach.
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Did you read the question? The OP states "and it is NOT Tantalus or anything having to do with Tantalus, please". –  Soylent Green Jan 13 at 2:27
But I disagree, why isn't it tantalizingly? It fits the description, no one says "tantalus" for something unattainable. And "dark horse" is acting like a red herring, taking visitors off track. :) Maybe my answer isn't the one the OP is looking for, but it's not wrong. –  Mari-Lou A Jan 13 at 5:39
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