I would like to share a bit more about our family's practice of building relationships with the end goal being marriage.
It would be our preference not to use labels but we practice our own family's version of a "courtship" model. I put that in parentheses because I don't like labels. Courtship can mean so many different things and so many people go about things in such different ways... it's really not a clearly-defined word in our society.
But for us... this is what that process of building a relationship with a common end goal of a godly marriage looks like.
First there is a 'getting to know you' period of time. This is where the 'do the hard things first' parts come into play. After the initial chit-chat about easy topics then the discussion turns to more important issues... what are your goals in life? How do you feel about ... (insert any topic that is important *to you*)? Out of those discussions a spiritual compatibility will either show itself or not. If not, then hopefully you will have made a friend and learned more about yourself. The goal would be for this period of time to not involve the heart and emotions but the soul. This has to be a purposeful time with a strong effort being made to keep one's heart from being drawn toward the other. I know that sounds very simplistic and probably difficult to accomplish but that is the general idea.
Then comes the 'courtship' period of time. This is the time for letting down your heart's guard bit by bit. Also the time for more serious and personal discussions. The 'courtship' brings with it a commitment that the earlier time does not. This is the time that you really get to know one another and with much prayer answer the questions: "Can we do more for God together or individually?" and "Do I choose to love this person?" The 'courtship' time is a precious one, it's so lovely to observe (as a parent). To see the Lord knitting two hearts together into one... it's just so beautiful. This period of time can be as long as it takes but should not end until the couple are certain in their decision.
And, ah, the engagement! Finally! We believe in longer courtships and shorter engagements. By the time you reach this part of your relationship and you are certain of what you want then it's time to plan the wedding and step into the next phase of your lives!
I know this isn't for everyone, I know every 'courtship' is different, every family is different in how they choose to allow guy/girl relationships. I just know that this is what the Lord has led us to... and we have seen the beauty of how it works.