This is written to answer blog_surf's question at the chatbox.
Before that, there was once, when a friend asked me a similar question. She asked me about how she could have a relationship while ensuring that she doesn't go against Islamic principles. And this was my reply to her. .
Its good that you've been aware and making the efforts to make yourself a better Muslim. I understand where you're coming from as I went through such a phase myself. It's been many years now since I made that first step to try to improve and I'm still learning every day and have to be constantly aware and stand firm to ward off temptations by the nafs or shaitan. Its not an easy transition.
Hm, I can't give you a solution.. You have to figure it out yourself through reading more about this, asking Islamic scholars, and to try understand, keeping an open mind and a strong will to learn and possibly change. At the same time, constantly supplicate(doa) and seek help from Allah SWT.
I will give my views on this though, through what I've learnt and understood.. but do not stop here, keep on reading and make your own decision.. I recommend articles and cyber counselor section from islamonline.net..there are many articles there on topics such as relationships based on Islam. Just type in a keyword in their search column. Also this article - islamic-world.net/boy_girl.php
Before this, I think there's a more important question that you have to consider. That question is "What is the purpose of Life?"
Do you know? Do I know the answer? I myself don't know but our purpose of life is already there before we're born.. Just hypothetically.. if we ask this monitor we're facing why is it made, if the monitor is able to speak, it will not know why it is here. Logically, we have to ask the factory which made it..and if we ask the factory, it will give a collection of questions and answers in a book called "Instruction Manual".
Its the same with us humans.. if we want to know the answer, we have to ask the God that creates us i.e. Allah SWT and Allah SWT have given us a complete set of questions and answers in His book called.. the Quran.
So what does the Quran says about our purpose of life?
"I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me." - adh-Dhariat:56
So knowing this.. we have to know that the concept of worship towards Allah SWT in Islam is not just strictly through performing the pillars of Islam like solat, fasting and zakat.
We have to understand that whatever we do and how we perform in our daily life (our actions, deeds, work, character, outlook) that meets the criteria of Islam that have been set in al-Quran and as-Sunnah.. that is the concept of worship! (ref. from an article at saifulislam.com)
So if you can agree to what have been explained here, then even in relationships and interactions with the opposite sex, we have to follow the guidelines that have been set for us. It's totally alien to what we have been used to, growing up in a secular life with all the influences from movies, friends and surroundings.. and it won't be easy to try and follow. But thats the safest and the best way.
Thats all I've to say. As I've said, continue to read and figure out for yourself, ask more from other sisters and Islamic scholars about this.. insya-Allah..He will show you the way.
It's important firstly to ask ourselves what is our purpose here? As Muslims, what is our true goal in life?
Now back to the question about how are we going to meet the other half..
As you have already read, that Islam recognises feelings and needs between a guy and girl but disciplines it by allowing it to be expressed only after marriage.
Which means that ideally, the only time a Muslim should even think of searching for the other half is when he/she is ready for marriage and have made concrete plans to get married within a short term period.
Some examples upon approaching marriage the Islamic way are as follows; searching and finding a wife (or what Malays call 'merisik') is performed through a third party, meeting to get to know more about each other is allowed but only in the presence of family members and during the engagement period, contact is allowed but the engaged couple should always keep in mind not to overdo it and transgress the limits.
As you'd notice, Islam permits interactions as long as it is done in a respectful manner and doesn't transgress the limits set in Islam.
The Islamic concept of marriage, what happens before and during the engagement is totally different from the horrifying idea of fixed marriages that some may suggest or assume; being forced to marry, not being able to make your own choice, not able to choose your own partner or even not knowing the other half at all!
There are a lot of misconceptions in Islam mainly due to ignorance and the only way to break away from it is to sincerely research on it, keeping an open mind. Only then will we know and be sure of the choices we make in life.
Just to add also that if anyone is already involved in a relationship and have realized that there should be no relationships before marriage, try not to go to extremes by immediately breaking it off. Think about the possibility of taking the relationship towards marriage as soon as possible.
I hope that this will help to lead to the answers you're looking for. And Allah Almighty knows best.