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I was looking for an English equivalent of the Chinese proverb (有缘无分) which describes couples who meet but who do not for whatever reason stay together.

My friend (native speaker, no Chinese backgroud) suggested "have fate without destiny". I am half contented with and half confused with this suggestion.

It seems to make perfect sense while I can't figure out the subtle difference of "fate" vs. "destiny" in this context.

And, why not "have destiny without fate" instead of "have fate without destiny"?

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You should reword this so that it is not a question about translating the Chinese into English but rather, you give us the details of the words and their cultural connections with much more detail, and then maybe a proverb in English can be found. Right now there's not enough detail. Fate and destiny are pretty close synonyms in English and you haven't given us enough language/culture context to try to differentiate. –  Mitch Oct 28 '11 at 21:10
    
Neither makes sense to me. Can you provide even a transliteration of the proverb? –  horatio Oct 28 '11 at 21:10
    
@Mitch en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuanfen –  Terry Li Oct 28 '11 at 21:16
    
@horatio See link above. –  Terry Li Oct 28 '11 at 21:17
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@Terry: I did google it. All I seem to see is references to the Chinese proverb. If you're familiar with that in Chinese, please tell us what you think it means. –  FumbleFingers Oct 28 '11 at 23:45
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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I don't know of a proverb but you could call them star-crossed lovers, meaning:

a pair whose relationship is thwarted by outside forces

From Romeo & Juliet

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life

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+1 Thanks for reminding me of this sweet expression and bringing me back to those sweet high school times. –  Terry Li Oct 28 '11 at 21:13
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OP doesn't really give us enough context here. I don't think fate without destiny really means anything at all, and it's certainly not an idiom. But how about...

ships that pass in the night - people who meet for a brief but intense moment and then part, never to see each other again. Like two ships that greet each other with flashing lights and then sail off into the night. From a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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The proverbial saying "Have fate without destiny" refers to couples who were fated to come together, but not destined to stay together, and as such is sometimes used as a break-up line. –  Terry Li Oct 29 '11 at 0:03
    
+1 your entry seems quite close to what I want except that the couple in my case might get along for a long time, might even love each other after they part, but they just have to part and are not meant to carry on to the very end. Most importantly, some invisible driving force leads to the sad ending, which could not be controlled by human. –  Terry Li Oct 29 '11 at 0:18
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It's probably not as poetic as the Chinese, but you can find this quote floating (unattributed) around the Web:

Some people are fated to meet each other, but not destined to be together.

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+1 Actually it sounds not too bad. –  Terry Li Oct 29 '11 at 2:59
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