Should I continue to be her friend or cut all contact?

Just to get it out of the way, she is my Step-Sister, but only on paper. I have no actual relation to her other than that. Some people have issues with that, but please for the sake of this question, please leave comments to that for another time. Also, she is nearly ten years my younger but she is matured by experience for her age.

A few years back I was introduced to my Step-Mother's daughter via online chat. She was in a bad marriage and seeking a friend, though her mother was trying to play match maker I wasn't looking for a relationship. We talked a few times, but I would gather that none of it was substantial aside from listening and offering empathy to her situation, since there was nothing I could do at the time.
About two years go by, with off and on chatting, but hardly anything worth noting, just banter, and I'm invited to go with her mother and my father to visit them where she and her husband lived. By this time I was made aware of several of her troubles by her mother, I knew she had just had another child and was up to three. She had difficulties with her mother in law and raising her children and her life at the time was generally not a good one.
When we actually met for the first time I did think to myself that she was extraordinarily beautiful, at least to me she was. We stayed at their house for a few days, and during this time, nothing happened except for a few conversations about others in her family. I remained a gentleman and didn't pursue anything because I believed that if she applied herself she might be able to try alternatives to repair her marriage with this man.
So again, years go by with just minor interaction.
By now in the timeline it's been nearly 4 years since we were introduced and started a weak friendship. Then one evening while on chat we decided to go video and screw around, not sexually, we were both bored and was trying to find something to do.
She explained that she was having a difficult time with her husband, who by now had gone through several jobs and unemployment and finally engaged himself in the military and was subsequently deployed. I tried to console her and tell her that she had all the tools to better herself, and suggested that she seek counseling so that she still might find a happy marriage. She informed me that she had gone to counseling, but he had refused to, and she went on to explain a lot of the reasons she felt it was over between the two of them. Most were abuse stories, some physical, but mostly mental and oppressive.
Our video chats grew numerous and we had been talking for many months on a nearly constant basis and my mentality had changed towards this woman and my feelings began to mature. Till one evening I told her that I loved her. I didn't know what I could do to ease her suffering, but felt compelled to tell her the truth. She then told me that she too had fallen in love with me.
I was concerned a lot about this, since after all, according to paper we were step-siblings. I wasn't so much concerned at the time of any backlash towards me from either side of the family, but for her. Since we couldn't do anything at that time to evolve our relationship, we maintained constant contact. She couldn't afford a divorce from her husband, and I could not afford to help her, or move. We were in a catch 22.
Last April however, she had had enough of where she was now living. She was having difficulty with her children and her landlord and she had asked her mother if she could move out here to where we lived. Now I didn't know about this at the time, because we did have a bit of a falling out.
I had just been given a promotion at my work and it required me to work almost a 14 hour shift every week, and my household was also having problems with my dad so my stress level was orbital.
Our communication lines had broken down and thankfully we got started again, and realized we were both stupid for thinking and acting the way we did. But the make up didn't take place until she was out here.

I'll try to speed things up, but I hope that providing the back story and details helps you help me with advice.

It was a lot easier talking with her in person and helped our communication.
She wanted a divorce and yet was worried that because she had never graduated high school that he would try to seek full custody. I comforted her by letting her know that regardless of what happened I would help her fight for her desire of joint custody and support financially.
We were both fully committed to a lifetime relationship, but marriage was nothing we were looking for at the time. It was a new life for me, I went from friend to boyfriend, and then to father figure in less than a year. Admittedly it was a change I chose and I tasked myself at it, but to say it wasn't stressful was a lie. We talked a lot and eventually made our relationship public.
I received some threats from her brother and some very cold shoulders at first, but out determination overcame most, aside from her brother.
About two months after she arrived my father underwent an amputation surgery due to complications from Diabetes and led to him to be put in a nursing center. It was a time with a lot of mixed feelings for me, and she was my guiding light, I tried very hard not to over burden her with my emotions since she too had a lot on her plate, and she knew how I felt and why I was trying to be stoic. Again, chalk one up for communication.
We talked about where we were headed together and we agreed that she should bypass a divorce until she had completed her GED program, she wanted to also be able to still use the medical insurance provided her because she had complications with her cycles.

Our most important talk took place in June, when I asked her if she wanted to move into a place of our own. Away from her mother and my father, so we could start a life together. She was a little hesitant, or so it felt, so I asked her to be honest with me about how she was feeling. She still said she loved me, and she wanted to move, just not yet. I said that my commitment to her was eternal and that before we took the next step that she should also be as committed, I told her that I wasn't wanting to force anything on her, but that I wanted to make sure that it was a our friendship that defined our relationship and was it's backbone.

Over the next few months our relationship seemed to blossom. I was still amazed at how lucky a man I was to have such an intelligent woman who loved me equally and it filled me with joy every time time I saw her. However, things came to a crashing halt in October.

She told me she needed out of the house and she was leaving. I was flabbergasted. I didn't see this coming at all! She was under a lot of stress with school and how her mother was treating her children and that it was almost a daily routine from her mother saying bad things about me. I was so shell shocked that I numb and couldn't focus on just about anything, I became a sobbing fool. I wasn't going to stop her, because if she was in such agony I wasn't going to prolong it for her. It was difficult for me, because my wages had gone down and couldn't afford to move with her and she was going to live on a base since she still had her husband's military support.
I suppose that if I hadn't been such a wreck that this would have raised flags, but given how I was feeling at the time and that the general plan that we talked about was for her to get her GED it was dismissed.
She too at this time seemed very emotionally wrecked but somehow she had confided to her mother how she felt, and was promised then that her mother would act better and that she didn't want her to leave either. So she stayed.
Things after that point seemed to deteriorate, and I couldn't understand why. She began to get a little aloof with our relationship, a little quieter and felt she was pulling away. I tried talking with her but she kept telling me she was alright, just tired all the time.
She found out that she wasn't sleeping very well and needed breathing assistance at night from a study, and she got it from her doctor, but things changed in December.
Unfortunately things didn't really change with her mother and now that my father had returned from the Nursing home, things began to get worse, for both of us. My father in of itself was a major cause. Whenever the children needed disciplining he would always go overboard, not physical, but with threats that were absurd. We both talked with him about his actions, but we both believe that he was mentally changed since the surgery and the nursing home, he was in there for nearly five months and due to it's location and our funds seeing him was at best once a week, but wound up being roughly every two or three, but we talked with him almost daily over the phone. However, his attitude towards the children after our talks didn't change. I tried bring up the subject of use moving in together in a place of our own again, since things changed financially but it seemed a touchy subject.
I started to undergo some stressful changes of my own. My inability to curb my dad, my confusion as to why he was behaving the way he was and work as they were almost constantly changing my schedule. I started to bury my stress into the computer. It wasn't a search for another person or anything, but more a way to try and regain some of my lost focus. Admittedly during this time I became snappish and short tempered. I was wrong for behaving this way and I regret it more than anything else, but at the time, I felt distorted and hazy. I snapped at her oldest son, after he would continue to ask questions about the same thing over and over again, sometimes up to fifteen minutes. What he wanted I had tried to the best of my ability and beyond, and I still could not get it done. His questioning upset me because it brought up another thing I felt powerless to change. I would often look to her for support during these times before I lost my temper, but she was either too engrossed with what she was doing at the time, or on "auto ignore" as she called it, to save some of her own sanity. However, my worst thing was when I snapped at her. She came behind me one evening and showing nothing but affection, covered my eyes and said "Time for bed" though I knew when she got up that she was wanting to head to bed, but I was not ready. I had had a bad day at work and was playing on my computer once again trying to do something. I can't even remember what it was now, and with a rude tone I replied "Okay then, let's go." I didn't realize at that moment what I had done, it was only once were in bed and I said I was sorry and asked her if she was OK. She said she was, though by her actions I knew she was not, but I did not pursue it, I didn't want compound on my idiocy and make things worse. She would later tell me that she had cried that night over it. I don't think anything in my life will ever make me feel as bad as what I did then.
Things seemed to settle down, however as she and I both seemed a little stress less and I wanted to try and show her how much she meant to me.

One day to cheer her up, I bought a dress she was eying in a second hand store and a rose. Now the dress happened to be a wedding dress, but when we both looked at it, on several occasions, she admitted to me that regardless its purpose she thought it was beautiful and would to love having it. Though when I brought it home and showed it to her and presented the rose, her reaction was almost cold. She said thanks, but that I didn't have to do that and then asked why I did it. I told her because I loved her and that she had wanted it.
We wound up having a very long and painful talk shortly thereafter.
She informed that she had undergone a life change, and realized that she wasn't the victim she had made herself out to be, she took responsibility for her failed marriage and the way she had told me she was abused, and how during most of the events she was the instigator. She told me she no longer loved me in the way to people do who want to spend the rest of their lives together do, and that she didn't know why. She said she was a horrible mother because she relied too much on other people to help take care of her children.
I tried remaining calm, even though my heart was being crushed. I said that it was my choice to be in a relationship with her and all that it entailed, including help with the care with her children. I went on to say that even though she may have instigated some of the actions, it doesn't give permission to abuse someone and that it was always a two sided street. But she brushed off all my comments about it and was adamant. She said that I was her best friend and wanted it to stay that way but all she wanted was to be friends.
At this point I became upset, I'm not sure still if it was warranted, but given what we had gone through together so far and for how long it had hit me wrong. I told her that I had done the best I could with what I had and that she was making me feel the "second guy" and somewhat used. I said I had never forced her into something or pushed the issue with her husband and that the way she was talking and not even giving what I had to say thought or chance to talk about her choice, as it effected us both, a very cruel thing. She asked if I wanted her to leave, and I said it was up to her. She asked if I wanted her to move things out of the room and sleep in the other room with her children. I'm still at odds here if it was a missed opportunity or some sort of test, but I told her that is would probably be better if she did. I said that if this was truly the way she wanted things and I was again powerless to change her mind, that it was better that the children see us apart and not romantically involved. I was very upset and I am sure it showed in my face and voice, I am also almost positive that my comments had become curt and slurred with anger. I guess I wanted at the time to make sure she knew I was extremely upset and angered wit the way she was behaving and handling things. Not that she could not make decisions about her life by herself, but that since we were in an involved relationship that what one of us did affects the other.
The following day, seemed another test that I feel like I failed, but I was still hurt and still a little angered. She had an appointment for her son that was in a city that was a good distance away and had previously shown concern about getting there and I had promised that I would go with her. She woke me up that morning, and asked me in a straight tone if I still wanted to go with her. I replied also straightforwardly that it would not be a good idea considering how I was feeling and I promptly turned over.
The rest of the day while she was away I had gone over things in my head and realized just how much of a dick I had been. Yes there were things that upset me, but she was being honest, or at least that is what I had thought at the time, and I basically just brushed it off because of my own pain.
I talked with her that evening and she said she wasn't mad and me and that she was sorry for the way things had become, and that she didn't mean to hurt me. I said that I still loved her and I wanted to be in a long term relationship with her and that just friends was something that I didn't think I could downgrade to.
So much for earlier statement of our friendship being at the core of our relationship huh?

Strange thing is that after that, things seemed to show that we were still romantically involved. We moved back into one room and we started to say "I love you" to each other again. But tail-tail signs started to show again. She once again became aloof and distant. The "I love yous" more infrequent and the talks as well. I was noticing her behavior towards her husband also change, instead of angered at his calls or texts she was contacting him more and more, as well as consistently talking with others. When I would show romance by coming over to give her a kiss, she would turn her head at the last moment, seemingly acting as if something had caught her attention.
I was confused, she was acting like she still loved me, by showing romance, yet didn't want to talk hardly with me. I became afraid. I was and still am afraid of rejection. I have had two previous relationships that did not end well. One was by a forceful woman that wanted things her way and nothing but, thankfully that one did not last long. Though my other one was my first real mature love and she had done the "I just want to be friends" routine with me. I had explained all this to her at the beginning of our relationship and how it affected me. I never expected it to happened again.
Eventually she decided that it would be best if she leave, and find her own place back in the state she used to live in. She told me she was leaving in February. I was crushed once again, but this time I decided not to fight with her because I didn't have the will power.
But what gets me is that she had changed her plans and wound up leaving mid January, and apparently she had told her other friends online and her sister to whom she would visit on the way back, but not me.
She told me that I was not the reason for leaving but the others in the house and mainly because of their treatment towards her children. Now I know that where we lived wound up being a bad place, and that stress here is an understatement as it has only gotten worse so that definitely did not help our relationship and might have wound up playing a major part in it's ending, at least romantically. But it wasn't until after she left that I had learned some information.
Her husband was due to come home either at the beginning of February or March. It's seems a little too coincidental for her to change her departure time to coincide with this news.

I am very sorry for the long detail, and I appreciate it if you've read through this, but this is something that is still a painful wound for me. Now I'll wrap it up.

I have always asked her to be honest with me, no matter what, and that I would do the same. I know that our relationship had been strained beyond belief. Though like I said earlier, I never ever forced her to choose, at least if I had I didn't do intentionally or directly. She said she was not going to be back with him, but it feels like she has. All I wanted was the truth. My life had changed to rapidly, things that I had thought were a dream come true crumbled down and my life had lost all direction. Yet I still seek the truth, but when I contacted her after she left, her answers avoided my questions. It seems like I also replay the day she left and it seemed almost that I would not even be missed.

It's been extremely hard for me since then, as I am still tied to where I live because of my father and his disability. I have difficulty sleeping at night and don't even want to go to the bedroom as it holds her memory there and the rapidity at which things came to an end brings back painful feelings. Some being my actions, but most at what I thought I had and how happy I was. I even closed my Social accounts because of our pictures because of the pain it caused, though second guessing myself a few days later I found out that she removed my ability to see her posts. Which doesn't help clear the confusions over her actions during the last month.

I find myself second guessing her choices and her actions, even buying into some other' interpretations because of the coincidences and the ensuing drama that started because of them, which somehow or another involved me, though no one wanted to speak to me about them.

My question listed is probably too simple a one, considering all the events, but I am lost and now need all the help I can get. When I see some of our pictures together I still feel love for her, yet I also feel betrayed and I can't understand the reason why. Even though it's not been that long since she left it feels like a lifetime and now I am finding myself wishing that it never happened at all because of how it's effecting me. The lack of sleep which is mainly the issue, but now I see signs all over the place that remind me of her and it brings back in a tidal wave of all the feelings we shared.
I just don't what to believe any more or even how to feel.

Any help this place can offer would be a god send. I know a lot of you people are good hearted as once upon a time I used to offer up my advice here as well, but now more than ever I need you all.
By Semper_Cogitans 14 years ago :: Marriage
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