I am a retired North American woman who is a huge anglophile. I have visited England a couple of times and always want to return. The only thing stopping me is finances. A solo trip anywhere these days is beyond my budget. I have two sisters living on the other side of the country and we stay in touch via a chat group. I have considered asking one or both of them if they’d like to visit England with me but there are various reasons I haven’t.

Recently in that chat I said something about wanting to go to England so much that I sometimes watch YouTube videos of bus trips around the country. In reply, one of the sisters tells me that she is planning a trip to England for her and our other sister. My jaw dropped. It felt terribly insensitive. There seemed to be no thought of including me in the trip or how I might feel about being left out. I have said nothing. I don’t want to rain on their parade, but I also feel as if I now know what they think of me.

At our age it is unlikely I will get a chance to visit England again. I am hurt and have pretty much cut off contact with them. This is possibly an immature and extreme reaction, but that’s how I feel.

Were you the eldest, middle or youngest? And what was your relationship with your sisters like growing up? I wonder if this is a very tangible, painful reminder of how things have always been between you? Have they always done things without you?

You chastise yourself by saying your reaction is immature, which hints of very young (but understandable) feelings. No one likes to be left out, but if this started in childhood, the reactions can feel very tender. I found myself wishing you’d felt able to say something at the point they mentioned England – there can be no ambiguity if you lay your cards on the table – but I understand how hard that would have been. It takes courage to admit to these feelings and face possible further rejection, but when you call people out on this type of behaviour they rarely have the courage to persist with it, because so much relies on complicit silence. A proclamation of vulnerability can actually make us very powerful.

One caveat: I am, of course, presuming you told them how much England meant to you before the chat where you mention the YouTube buses, and this wasn’t the first time they’d heard of it?

I went to ACP-registered psychotherapist Alison Roy, who gave me a really interesting perspective on not just triad dynamics (what you’re in) but how, generally, some people need an audience to make themselves feel good. We see this a lot on social media: “Look at me, my life/relationship is fabulous.”

“In these situations, the third person [here, you] is playing an important useful role for the other two,” says Roy, “and it might be worth remembering that although you feel left out, your sisters are probably thinking about you a lot [and they need your reaction]. Because usually when someone needs to tell someone else that they’re having a good time, or their relationship is special, we might wonder how special it really is.”

Roy suggested, if you felt able, saying something fairly gentle but pointed, such as “Did you not realise how important going to England was to me?”. He adds: “By doing this you encourage your sisters to take back responsibility for what’s theirs [making the trip without you] and you can take your power back by asking a question that makes them think.”

We could pontificate for the length of this column about what your sisters are doing and why. You want to go to England. Can I gently challenge you to look at whether you can afford it? What is it about going with your sisters that would have made it so much more accessible, given that the flights would be the same? I’m guessing accommodation, but would this be radically cheaper if you went with your sisters? Have you looked at group travel? I wonder if perhaps it was the thought of company that made this trip feel doable? I can understand that. I’m sure transatlantic readers will have some ideas about how you could make this work, and get to see London from the front of a real bus.

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And don’t cut off contact with your sisters; make sure to send them a postcard.

Every week, Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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