As-Salamu `Alaikum dear brother,
Thank you for your question. First of all, I have to tell you that I appreciate your honesty with the girl and that you told her all about your capabilities emotionally and financially at the current moment. I also appreciate that you are seeking advice as to how to manage the situation in a way that is good for all parties as well as pleasing Allah.
My advice to you would be to involve your parents, both hers and yours, in the issue. This way you would be eliminating the guilt feeling you have due to your parents not knowing about your relationship. Also, you would be able to share the burden of your concerns and worries with other people and receive some answers for your open questions about the future of your relationship.
Maybe her parents would agree that you both get engaged until you graduate and be able to marry, if they see that you are a good potential husband for their daughter. Maybe your family and her family would be ready to help you financially in the marriage process after you graduate or even before that as some families agree that their children marry while still in college.
If the families agree that you get engaged until you graduate, this time could also be a good opportunity for you both to know each other better, to be sure you are compatible for each other, and make sure that you both really want to spend your lives together and it is not just a matter of infatuation or admiration.
Hopefully, in sha’ Allah through communication and sharing your issues with the families, you would be able to reach a situation that is good for all parties, and you will not have all this burden of worrying and over thinking all by yourself because you will have other people to help you through it.
As for the age difference between you and her, I have to tell you I don’t know to what extent that factor is a problem in your culture, but according to Islam there is no problem at all in such a factor. In practice, if there is high compatibility between two people in other factors, then the small age difference would not be an issue that comes in the way of a marriage. On the contrary; this small age difference could even be a good point in the relationship as the couple would feel they are close to each other in age as well as in the way of thinking and interests. Thus, they would be more like friends.
Of course, it is very important to make istikhara in each step you take and each decision you are about to make. If you decide to talk to your parents, choose the right timing and way you are going to open the issue with them. Maybe you can think about whom exactly you will speak to; both of your parents together or with only one whom you feel more at ease when talking about such a sensitive issue. Then that parent would discuss the issue with the other.
In the end, you are the one who knows best about what suits your situation and can decide what step to take. These are just some advices and guidelines that may help you to some extent in your situation. So, think and make istikhara, then take the decision and in sha’ Allah Allah will help you in whatever decision you take since you are keen to do what pleases Him and keep away from what He dislikes and forbids.
Make du`aa’ continuously, and make it an important part of your everyday life. In sha’ Allah, He will help you in all steps of your life.
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