As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum dear sister,
Thank you for your question. What is important to keep in mind when getting to know someone for marriage is the fact that as human beings, it is quite natural to want to spend time and get to know someone we intend to marry.
It seems that you understand the boundaries in terms of modesty between males and females, and that you are trying to do your best to do the right thing so that you are off to a healthy start once the two of you are married.
However, I also noticed from your line of questioning a couple of contradictions or just a few factors that seem to have you in a state of conflict. There are a couple of statements that highlighted these contradictions. The first statement you made is that you have known this person for 15 years, and you know him very well and he has changed for the better, but you don’t ever meet up with him alone.
Following this statement, you mentioned that he would like to keep these intentions that the two of you have for each other quiet. It seems from your description that the two of you have already made the decision to move forward and have conversations over the phone or have already engaged in private discussions in public places if I am correct.
There is nothing wrong with spending time with an individual that you intend to marry in public places or with a third party such as a family member or mahram present.
What is important to keep in mind is that the relationship which starts off well will continue to flourish.
The relationship that begins with unhealthy patterns of behavior or without the foundations of respect will not flourish without some form of intervention at some point.
Meeting with a potential spouse publicly or with a third party serves as a spiritual protection for both individuals involved and to facilitate in maintaining that overriding theme that exists before being married which is the importance of maintaining boundaries with someone who is not your husband yet and the respect factor.
Arguably, these values can be present with or without a third party; however, it serves especially as a protection for the woman involved.
I understand that your potential spouse would like to keep things quiet regarding your intentions for privacy reasons, but it should definitely not be something that is hidden from your families.
Family involvement on some level will be important in helping you make your decision as well as it is important in building relationships.
I would also encourage you to relax and enjoy the journey as no one can really know everything about a person.
There will be so many things that you will discover after marriage, possibly each day about each other’s personalities, the dynamics of living together, the physical and sexual components to the relationship, adjusting to each other’s styles of communication, etc.
I hope that this information is helpful to you. If you would like to know more about Islamic rulings regarding the marriage process, I would encourage you to contact the Ask the Scholar section of this site.
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