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Two characters are wandering around a busy and/or crowded location such as a large business office, and they continuously and unintentionally just manage to keep missing seeing each other, turning corners, ducking down into cubicles to peer at intriguing computer screens, and so forth.
- The two may or may not be actively looking for each other
- The act of seeing would either be very good for both of the duo, or very bad for one of them.
- The sequence sometimes ends with them never meeting, but usually they finally (finally) collide at the absolute best/worst/funniest moment.
Usually played for laughs, but can be used in an attempt to build suspense. Also used to execute and maintain a Not-So-Imaginary Friend. In any event, as some of the examples below will indicate, it is a schtick that is very very easy for a plot-creator to painfully over-do. For works with contemporary, real-world settings, this trope may soon fall victim to the prevalence of cell phones and wind up discredited.
A somewhat more realistic variation on Scooby-Dooby Doors. For the time-travel variant, see Never the Selves Shall Meet. See also Hidden in Plain Sight, Gave Up Too Soon. See Close-Call Haircut for the attack version.
The trope's name is a riff on one of Maxwell Smart's many catch phrases, but he never actually engaged in it himself.
- In Afro Samurai, after losing the headband to some thugs as a kid, the titular character finds out that the current Number Two is his swordmaster, whom he'd trained under for years. In the manga, he even walks the earth for five years looking for it.
- One Piece has an amusing scene where Luffy and Buggy are standing next to each other, and keep looking in exactly the wrong directions to actually see each other. They even have a short conversation without realizing who they're talking to.
- The first sound stage of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's had both the protagonists and the Wolkenritter visiting a newly opened hot spring and missing a chance meeting with one another. This was mostly thanks to Nanoha and Fate spending most of their time there washing each other's backs instead of wandering around the place with Alisa and Suzuka.
- This happens in the Death Note anime; Light and Misa both wonder who the other Kira is while drinking in the same coffee house.
- Rurouni Kenshin alters Misao and Kaoru's first meeting in Kyoto for the anime. Kaoru and Yahiko have just arrived to Kyoto and Kenshin is just thiiiiis close to the two, but they're in the middle of a huge crowd and they don't see each other. Then Kaoru hears a woman's voice calling out for "Himura", alias Kenshin's surname; that woman is Misao, so Kaoru and Yahiko meet her instead and then find Kenshin a short while later.
- Pokémon, courtesy of Team Rocket's scheme/s, has this happen at least twice:
- "A Maze-ing Race": Ash and company are lost in a maze and have been split up. In one amusing sequence involving Paul, in no particular order did Ash's, Dawn's and Brock's groups take turns asking him if he's found the other two groups, missing each other by less than a minute each.
- "Jumping Rocket Ship" has Croagunk lost in Canalave City by himself, and travels by way of boat. Several times did he pass by a location where Ash and the others were a mere second ago. The group only managed to find Croagunk when his trainer Brock tried to hit on a girl at the end of the episode.
- For something that doesn't involve Team Rocket for once, the recurring sunglasses-wearing Krookorok, who faded from importance over 40 episodes ago,was revealed to have been stalking Ash and friends the whole time, only to miss them at every opportunity. (There was a quick flashback showing events of previous episodes and where Krookorok was around those times.)
- During the Soul Society arc of Bleach, the separated group are looking for each other, while Chad accidentally saves Ichigo by blowing up a group of Shinigami mooks without seeing who they were chasing.
- When Marco Rossi arrives to Argentina in 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother... every time he went to a certain place where he could find leads about his mom's whereabouts, his mother had already left following the family she worked for, thus missing her at every opportunity until the very last episode.
- Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2 #50 has Peter and Mary Jane trying to find one another with the results you're likely to expect from this page.
- Seen in an issue of West Coast Avengers, with most of the titular team stuck in ancient Egypt thanks to a defective time machine that can only take them further into the past. They try to contact and hitch a ride back home with any of several other time travelers known to live in or have visited that particular time period (including Rama-Tut, the early Fantastic Four, and Dr. Strange), but always just manage to miss them.
- Issue #56 of Y: The Last Man begins with Yorick and 355 in Paris, looking for Yorick's old girlfriend Beth DeVille. At the same time, Hero, the other Beth, Natalya, and Ciba are also in Paris looking for Yorick together. Yorick and 355 go into a pastry shop to get something to eat just before the other four women walk by the corner they were standing on.
Hero: This is pointless.
Ciba: What are you talking about, Hero? Five minutes ago, you said that you could feel that Yorick was close.
Hero: That was just bullshit to keep you guys on the hunt, Ciba.
- An American Tail: Young Fievel is separated from his family on their way to America, and spends the rest of the movie looking for them, barely missing them on several occasions; this was partly because his sister Tanya was the only one really looking for him, while the parents believe he's as good as dead or assume it's impossible he'd make it to America.
The Nostalgia Critic:"Every other second he walks right past his family and they just barely miss each other. Just turn your head to the left, dammit! No no no, go left! Go back! No, the other way! Goddammit, just get back together!"
- In the sequel, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Fievel and Tiger walk past each other in the desert, under the assumption that the other is just a mirage. It doesn't even help that they address each other "Hi, mirage of Tiger", "Hi, mirage of Fievel".
- In Don Bluth's Thumbelina, the titular character spends a depressingly large amount of time walking away from her house.
The Nostalgia Chick: "So Thumbelina, who at any given time seems to be only about ten feet away from her house going the wrong way."
- Don Bluth must love being such a bastard.
- Labyrinth: "If she had gone that way, she would have walked straight into that castle."
- The Film of the Series of My Favorite Martian, The Mars Rover Probe's batteries die within inches of a ridge, on the other side of which is the Martian civilization.
- In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, the animals and their owners pass each other on the road without realizing it.
- However, Shadow the leader suddenly got a feeling he should go back, but thinks it was nothing.
- ~Pee-wee's Big Adventure~ is all about his attempt to get his bike back. While hitching a ride with an escaped convict, a truck carrying his bike pulls up beside them. Since Pee-Wee's laughing with him, he doesn't notice. Still laughing to the driver, he fails to notice the truck turn off at the next exit, while Pee-Wee rides on.
- Under The Same Moon, Carlitos and his friend are looking for his mother, and they walk right behind the bench where she is sitting. To be fair, he hadn't seen her in more than a year, so he might have forgotten how she looked from behind.
- Happens on several occasions in The Edge Of Heaven: The main character, Nejat, looks everywhere for a young woman, who happens to have been crashing unnoticed for weeks in the lecture hall where he teaches German literature. She, in turns, seeks her mother, and doesn't notice her when her car and the bus her mother is riding in are side by side in the street.
- The film Serendipity has the two main characters constantly miss bumping into each other by this much as they're actively trying to find the other. This goes on and on until the viewer is sorely tempted to shout at the screen, "Just meet up already!"
- In spite of coming within spitting distance of one another at various points throughout the film, Bruce Willis's character never once meets or even sees Gary Oldman's in The Fifth Element.
- Young Girls of Rochefort: Maxence looks everywhere for his soul mate, but can't find her. During the course of the movie, we realize that he actually knows the woman's mother, her former lover, her grandfather, her sister... and that he's been invited to meet her a few times but never could. Worse, the soul mate, Delphine, is actively looking for him on her side, but it doesn't change anything. At the end of the movie, they both go off to Paris by hitching a ride from the same group of trucks, but it's unclear whether they meet. Lampshaded by Delphine's former lover when he ironically quotes that "Paris is a very small town for those whose love is great" - he's the only one who knows that Maxence and Delphine have been just a few steps away this whole time.
- The Matrix: Neo attempting to escape the agents after a bleary post-hacking morning at work and eventually chickening out, all the while taking the mysterious instructions over the phone he's just received in a FedEx package.
- The movie See No Evil Hear No Evil (not to be confused with the trope of the same name) uses this trope during the climactic confrontation between Richard Pryor's character and the Big Bad in the latter's office, with the two men sometimes unknowingly passing within a few feet of each other. This is justified by the fact that both men are stone blind.
- Buster Keaton's silent comedy The Navigator shows two people repeatedly missing each other on a ship, in spite of the fact that they're also the only two passengers on the vessel.
- Minority Report features an awesome sequence with Anderton and Agatha avoiding the Future Crime cops, utilizing Agatha's future-seeing prediction to place themselves at the right place and right time for seemingly random events to hide them from the cops. (Example: Agatha tells Anderton to stop right in the middle of the mall, in plain view. Just as the cops stop at an overhead walkway to look down, a man with balloons blocks their view of Anderton.)
- In Beethoven's 2nd, when the puppies are still being hidden from the father, there are several close calls where he almost finds one.
- In the movie Milo and Otis, Otis the dog, while searching for his friend Milo the cat, goes to several places Milo has been, but he always arrives a little too late.
- In the film Walkabout a teenaged girl, and her younger brother are lost in the Australian outback. At about the half way point in the movie we are shown that there is a farm house, just the other side of a hill from them. Of course they never see it.
- In the relatively little known Three For The Show, a musical comedy starring Jack Lemmon, Gower Champion, Marge Champion, and Betty Grable, Betty Grable is legally married to Jack Lemmon, and legally married to Gower Champion. At one point in the film, each man is led to believe that Betty has chosen him over the other, which leads to Gower Champion showing up at their apartment to set up for an evening with his wife. Then Jack shows up to set up for an evening with his wife. Then Betty comes home. And all three spend at least five minutes running through the apartment in a fantastic example of this trope.
- Though, at one point in this, Jack is in the bathroom shaving, and Gower is in the adjacent bedroom changing, and each one believes that Betty is on the other side of the door.
- In The Terminator, Dr. Silberman scoffs at the idea of the Terminator, and he leaves just as the Terminator arrives at the station. He's looking at his pager when he first walks in.
- The entire plot of the novel The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
- In Poison, the titular character goes out looking for her baby sister, who was kidnapped by fairies. On her way to the realm the fairies inhabit, she passes a girl somewhere around her own age, but doesn't stop to talk to her. If she had, she would have quickly learned that the girl was her sister, aged up and returned by the fairies. This may in fact be a subversion, because the quest for her sister was only a very small part of what Poison was supposed to be doing, she just didn't know it yet.
- There is one case in a Drizzt novel where Drizzt and Cattie-Brie are walking on one side of the street to meet Morik the rogue about Wulfgar (who went missing sometime last book), while, on the other side of the street, there is an elf going in the opposite direction to meet an informant to find out where Drizzt is, so she can kill him. Neither party ever realizes the other was so close by, and Drizzt isn't even aware the elf exists until the climactic showdown.
- In the fourth book of The Power of Five, Scarlett is leaving her home to go to Hong Kong just as Matt and Jamie are around the corner, and miss her by maybe a dozen meters. Lampshaded, of course.
- Arya in the second and third books of A Song of Ice and Fire always seems to come within hours, or occasionally minutes of her home or family members only for something to keep her from reaching her destination.
- Ellis Peters has two people, who had never seen each other but are primary-importance characters, do this in one of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, to the point where one holds the others stirrup not realizing who the other is.
- The above mentioned 300 Leagues in Search of Mother is based on a short story included in Edmondo D'amici's book Cuore, where exactly the same thing happens: Marco comes to Argentina from Italy, finds leads about where his mother could be, arrives to the places only to find out that she and her bosses are gone, finds more leads and follows them..., lather, rinse, repeat. . . In both book and series he finally finds her. . . after having to freaking cross through the whole country, from Buenos Aires (located in the Atlantic Ocean shore) to Tucumán (located in the Andes)!
- In what is probably the longest running example, Sesame Street spent over a decade (from 1971 to 1985) exhausting pretty much every conceivable variation of this trope with regards to popular character Snuffleupagus. He was perceived by the vast majority of the adult cast as a figment of Big Bird's imagination until extreme efforts were made to forcibly prevent him from once again fulfilling this trope and leaving just as the gathered adults were supposed to meet him. Behind the scenes, the evident reason for his final unveiling was due to fears about young viewers learning the wrong lesson about attempting to tell the truth.
- Doctor Who: The beginning "Partners in Crime" as Donna and the Doctor both sneak into the same office building twice, crash a product presentation, and creatively acquire a list of customers from two office workers with cubicles literally five feet away--and who print out the lists on the same networked printer--without ever seeing each other.
- Not only the beginning of the episode, but almost all the way to the climax of the episode. Other instances include Donna parking her car and walking away, and mere moments later the TARDIS appears right behind the car; running down intersecting streets and stopping just short of the actual intersection; and so forth. Donna even lampshades the trope by listing off a number of bizarre events that she investigated, believing the Doctor to have been involved, but dismisses the one where the Titanic almost crashed into Buckingham Palace... which was the only one that the Doctor was actually present for.
- In "The Romans", Barbara is sold as a slave and ends up working in Nero's palace. At the same time, the Doctor and Vicki are guests at the palace. Through the middle two episodes of the serial, they repeatedly just miss seeing Barbara (though Vicki does unwittingly save her life).
- A rare dramatic example in "Girl In The Fireplace". The Doctor meets the Madame de Pompadour at various points of her life. Eventually, he tells her he will come back and take her traveling with him, and she eagerly awaits. However, when he does come back, she has just died and her body is being taken from her mansion. The Doctor's sadness and the letter she leaves him make this episode a real Tear Jerker.
- The early episodes of Heroes where anyone with "special abilities" was within a few blocks of each other in New York City, and didn't even know it.
- In Ghostwriter: Lost in Brooklyn, Safira is trying to find her long-lost brother Malenga. In Part Three, she leaves a message for him. He shows up and finds the message...while she's still walking away. If he had just walked a few steps forward (instead of stopping to read the message), he would have seen her.
- One episode of Scrubs had Turk and Carla chasing each other around the hospital, attempting to meet for a pre-arranged kiss.
- Another episode had Turk and JD chasing each other around the hospital, attempting to meet for a hug after Turk got back from his honeymoon. They each ended up in separate rooms, just next to each other. Then, somehow, JD ended up in the same room, one floor up.
- An episode of Dharma and Greg had this in prequel form: the titular couple flash back to the days before their first meeting. The audience knows exactly when they'll meet again (on the subway in the first episode) but several times they almost, but not quite, run into each other.
- In the Seinfeld episode 'The Movie' most of the episode involves Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine searching vainly for each other so they can meet to see a movie, and constantly missing each other by a few seconds. In the end, no one gets to see the full movie that they wanted to see.
- When Foggy of Last of the Summer Wine returned from several seasons of being absent, he spent a whole episode doing this with Clegg and Compo.
- In the Series 2 finale of Skins, Sid and Cassie just miss each other while he's searching for her in New York City when the screen goes black and the series ends for that generation of characters.
- How I Met Your Mother has been getting lots of mileage out of this trope. As of the fifth season, Ted has picked up an umbrella owned by the titular mother at a party, accidentally walked into and taught the wrong class that she was in, and briefly dated her roommate, and left just after seeing her... left leg.
- On the Stargate Universe episode "Lost", the abandoned characters locate and dial Destiny just moments before it leaves, and then we see its gate open... only for Rush's search party to come back empty-handed, blocking their gate from connecting. Then they dial again, but the ship leaves just before it opens, stranding them.
- In the early going of the original version of Survivors, Jenny at least twice just misses meeting up with Abby before they finally get together. Then in the third season the show became somewhat infamous for this trope, with Jenny and Greg repeatedly engaging in it over the course of the entire season. They never do reunite, and Greg dies of smallpox.
- Frasier's third season finale, "You Can Go Home Again", is a flashback to events before the pilot episode. Frasier and Niles are in Cafe Nervosa. Niles leans over to the next table to grab some napkins - and as he does so, his future love interest (and as yet unknown) Daphne leans over to his table to ask Frasier if he has finished with the sugar.
- The number of times that Character A would leave the Cafe, and then seconds later Character B would walk in.
- Happens all of the time in Korean Dramas, usually with lovers or long-lost relatives.
- Gung-ho prosecutor just misses mysterious vigilante in The City Hunter.
- You Are Beautiful is particularly egregious for this across the story arc.
- In Winter Sonata, Yuujin misses her engagement party while wildly looking for someone who looked like her first love.
- Even historical dramas are not spared, with Dong Yi being an example.
- An episode of CSI had two identical twins who were Separated at Birth killed in what appear to be separate incidents (robbery gone bad and suicide). They'd been living within a few blocks and using the same laundrette without meeting each other and various acquaintances had mistaken them for one another but they'd never met. The husband of one twin murdered the other by accident (staging it to look like a robbery) and had to kill her and make it look like suicide. Tragically had they lived just a week longer, one would have been teaching a night class the other was attending, most likely bringing them together at last.
- Mad About You ended its third season with a two-parter about an alternate world in which Paul and Jamie never met, because the location of their canonical Meet Cute burnt down. The trope is played straight for almost the two full episodes, and only averted in the final scene
- Happens a lot in Bassie En Adriaan, where the villains would often just barely miss the duo.
- Used in a heartbreakingly sad way in the music video for Whiskey Lullaby by Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss. The cheating wife spends the first part of the video desperately searching for her husband so she can apologize. She keeps missing him as he sinks behind a car in an alleyway as she drives past and gets kicked out of a crowded bar on one side while she's looking on the other. If you've listened to the song, you can guess what happens next. She doesn't find him in time to keep him from committing suicide. She follows him shortly thereafter.
- Sora and Donald Duck/Goofy from Kingdom Hearts, the first time they're in Traverse Town.
- In Skies of Arcadia when Vsye and the two girls get split up after their ship gets destroyed they spend a day in a large town and even complete a dungeon together (without each other's knowledge) following this trope.
- In Fallout3 your character is looking for his/her father who left the Vault right before you. Every time you pick up his path, you learn that he was just there not a few hours before.
- Dominic Deegan walks by a ring that could have saved the entire town and a long story arc. As Dominic is a Seer, this is a pretty big case of What an Idiot!.
- Later on, he explains why he overlooked it, and his friends point out that the way he ended up doing things worked out for the better anyway.
- A Running Gag for a while in Arthur, King of Time and Space was Lancelot and Galehaut keeping missing each other.
- This bash.org quote.
- SpongeBob SquarePants: "Home Delivery", SpongeBob claims that town is in same direction as the moss growing on a rock. Squidward doesn't believe him and insists on going the other way. As it turns out, the town was just past that rock, on the mossy side.
- Another example is when Spongebob spends most of an episode looking for his ID badge, and it turns out that it was on his shirt all along, and he didn't notice because it was on backwards.
- Kim Possible: "Adventures in Rufus-Sitting" Kim's pursuit of Rufus always brings her within a few feet of Ron and his family in Paris.
- Peter Pan and Captain Hook do this in the Disney cartoon around a rock, when Peter is pretending to be a water spirit.
- Kuzco and Yzma, albeit with menus, during the diner scene in The Emperors New Groove.
- Two Stupid Dogs had an episode where the little dog was looking for his bone - all the while, it was on top of his head.
- The Duckman episode "Bev Takes A Holiday" goes through this when twin sisters Bernice and Beverly unknowingly end up in the same house together.
- Happens for most of the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "Run For Your Ed," with the Kanker Sisters tearing up the cul-de-sac in search of their ship-in-a-bottle, which the Eds ended up stuck with thanks to a sleepwalking Ed. They finally meet up... but only after the entire cul-de-sac is in ruins.
- Before their exact location was known, thirty-three Chilean miners trapped in a mine claim to have heard a drill go by a few feet from their cave.
- Two brothers, separated when sent to different foster homes at a young-ish age, spent about twenty years looking for each other. When reunited, they discovered they'd been living on the same street for 2 years, and 8 months of that within a few blocks of each other.