(one) can't win

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(one) can't win

1. One is unable to find or create any success; one has been constantly and thoroughly defeated, bested, belittled, etc., in recent times. So Mary divorced John after their company went under, and then his mother died a week later? Man, that guy can't win lately. That's the third manuscript to be rejected by the publishers. I guess I just can't win.
2. One cannot please someone or everyone. The kids aren't happy if they don't have the same fancy gadgets as their friends, and my wife's not happy if I buy the things for them—I can't win! First he criticizes me for spending too much time at home, then he criticizes me for being away too often with my friends. I just can't win with him.
See also: win
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

you can't win

Also, you just can't win. Whatever one does is wrong or not enough, as in Every time I block one of the woodchuck's holes, I find another; you just can't win. [First half of 1900s] For a synonym, see damned if I do, damned if I don't.
See also: win
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

I, you, etc. ˌcan’t ˈwin

(spoken) whatever you do, you cannot succeed completely or please everyone: If I spend time with Phil, Jane’s unhappy. If I spend time with her, he’s jealous. I just can’t win. ▶ ˌno-ˈwin adj. (of a situation, policy, etc.) that will end badly whatever you decide to do: They’re in a no-win situation at the moment. Whatever they do, someone criticizes them.
See also: win
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
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References in periodicals archive ?
Silver Patriarch can't win because he needs a strong pace, which is unlikely to be forthcoming unless Nedawi is used as a pacemaker-and anyway the evidence says he doesn't like Ascot.
With some people you just can't win. John the Baptist's opponents accused him of being demon-possessed because of his asceticism and ruddy appearance as well as his diet and "hangout." Jesus' opponents accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard because he enjoyed feasting (with the "wrong" kind of people).
"Jones and his allies can't win on the floor of either house, so they're trying this scheme to circumvent the legislative process."
If you say, "It's black," he says, "It's white." If you say, "You're right--it's white," he says, "No, it's black!" You can't win, and you know in your heart of hearts you two are not compatible.
"But environmental justice groups have far less power and can't win the dueling scientific experts battle."
As they say in the ads for lottery drawings, "You can't win if you're not in."
The fight began when the hip-hop magazine The Source printed an article entitled "Five Reasons Bill O'Reilly Could Never Come to the Hood," in an attempt to expose "the true nature of this rightwing author." O'Reilly shot back: "We all know you can demonize your opponent when you can't win an argument.
Power can win the body count but it can't win this war.
(And keep an eye out for Deitch's cameo as the tatted-up gambler with the exotic European accent who tells Shaver, "If you don't play, you can't win.")
One of the most common is their small team doing the bids just is so inexperienced and/or unskilled they can't win. If you are only 25 you are probably unskilled simply because you are young and only been doing this for a short while.
It's a battle he can't win. The Turkish government claims it must dam the Euphrates to produce much-needed electricity for nearby towns.
No reason why Wales can't win there - Ireland certainly should have done so, and but for a wayward kick by Sexton they would have.
It can't win a Tony, it won't tour to your hometown, the dance routines will never show up in a Gap ad and only a handful of connoisseurs will buy the original cast album--if, that is, some idealistic record label troubles to produce it.
Washington today is like a demented casino whose motto is a twisted variant of that state lottery slogan: "You can't win if you don't play -- but, boy, can you lose." Unsurprisingly, everybody plays.
Surely this was a rather desperate, contrived attempt to free myself from the almost weightless yoke of my parents' comfortable, boomer morality?' It would seem parents can't win.