Salam, A man with good intentions and a clean heart, finds a young lady attractive and has heard very pleasant things about her. Mashallah, she is gorgeous and after getting to know her, he is very sure about the decision of inshallah making her his wife. Pure intentions, clean heart, no ill means wallah. However, the man is still early in life, needs to finish college in order to be able to provide for his loved ones. What should he do? (He is me haha)
Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,
To understand the proper way to approach her and why it has to be so, you have to understand the way marriage is meant to work in Islam. As I discuss in detail in my essay The Point of Marriage in Islam (and the Problem with Romantic Relationships Outside of Marriage), in Islam (and Victorian Christianity), marriage is not only about the fulfillment of two individuals, it is about integrating their relationship into society in a safe and functional way. This means that the families of both the man and the woman have to be involved in the process, it is not something the man and the woman can set up entirely on their own. The same way that you have a right to be loved and taken care of by your parents, your parents have a right to have a say in your marriage.
The proper way to approach her is therefore through her family. You have to present yourself to her family and they have to cast their votes, whether in your favor or against it. In some families the woman herself has most of the vote and the family will respect her choice, while in other families the parents and siblings expect to have more of a say.
First, you should mention the matter to your own family. Even if you think they will like her and approve of the relationship, the respectful thing to do is to get them involved. If they are not Muslim and they expect you to manage your own relationships, then that makes their involvement less important.
If you do not know the woman’s family, you can politely approach the woman and tell her of your desire to request her hand in marriage from her family, she would then tell her family about you and a day will be arranged for you to meet her family. It depends on a woman’s culture and education how she will respond to being approached. Some may consider it a natural and acceptable thing, others may be seriously offended and may consider it very inappropriate. Some cultures, like in Iran or Malaysia, are accepting toward strangers approaching their daughters for marriage due to the spread of university education and their cosmopolitan lifestyles, while others, such as that of Afghanistan, will in general find the idea of a stranger approaching their daughter an utterly unacceptable thing.
If you cannot take care of a family now but expect to be able to once you finish college, her family may approve of your engagement but ask to delay the wedding until after you finish college. This is commonly done in countries like Iran and Malaysia. But some families may refuse such an arrangement and ask you to come back once you have a job. Some families may simply refuse to meet you and ask to meet your parents first, or only approve a meeting once you have finished college. And if the woman has other eligible suitors, that will further complicate the picture.
So the way to approach her is to ask to be introduced to her family. If the woman says she is not interested, then you have to leave it at that. And if she mentions you to her family but they refuse to meet you, then you have to find out the reason. If the reason is something that can be changed (maybe they expect you to have a job), then you have to wait patiently and try again in the future.
If the family approves of the relationship but does not want you to get married just yet, you can perform a quiet engagement ceremony (nikāḥ) to make your engagement official religiously. After that the two of you can stay in contact and date like any Western couple until you get married. This is how some Muslim cultures do it, while others may find it strange to perform a nikāḥ without performing the wedding.
What you should absolutely not do is try to start a romantic relationship with her in disregard to her family. Islam is not opposed to your happiness, but it wants your relationship to be conducted in a way that will work out for everyone in the long-term, rather than enjoying a few months of bliss followed by years of disappointment and suffering. Even if she seems interested in such a relationship and wants to keep in close contact, you should keep things formal and professional and keep in mind that she may end up marrying someone else. If she is someone you meet daily (you attend the same classes or work at the same place), then your behavior toward her should be in a way that if her family was watching, they should not disapprove of it. It is impossible to stay within the appropriate boundaries if you keep in contact with her in private (such as through chatting on social media). Both of you will strongly desire to keep pushing the boundaries, this is natural and will invariably lead to both of you starting to act more like lovers. Therefore I strongly recommend that you do not keep up regular private contact with her.
It can be very difficult to act with perfect religious composure when you strongly desire to be with someone and especially when they too desire to be with you. But that is the polite and civilized way to behave, and it is designed that way for your own good and her good, so that you can both remain pious and get married with the blessing and approval of both of your families. If her family discovers that you tried to bypass them by keeping a secret romantic relationship with their daughter, they may never forgive you for it, and even if the marriage takes place, this mistake can negatively color your relationship with them for the rest of your life.
Sometimes her family may say the marriage is impossible for one reason or another, but they may change their opinion eventually. If she is from an immigrant family, her parents may expect her to marry someone from their own culture, for this reason if you belong to a different culture, they may simply refuse to even consider you. Books can be written about all of the complexities and nuances of getting married in Islam, so I cannot cover everything in this answer.
The best thing to do is to be patient and respectful, and to keep in mind that we do not always get what we want in life. I recommend spending an extra hour every night in worship (as I describe here), this will make it much easier to be patient and to remain on your best behavior in your interactions with women.