One of the interesting sidelights for many of America's college and university students is that they get married while pursuing their educations. Or perhaps it is the other way around. They obtain their education while pursuing their marital goals. Brigham Young University is among those colleges and universities with a reputation as a happy hunting ground of sorts for its approximately 20,000 single students each year. Susan and I are among the numerous married couples who met while attending BYU.

In my marriage classes we talk about an unusual word. It is homogamy. "Homo" meaning sameness and "gamy" meaning marriage. What homogamy really means is people marry other people much like themselves in regards to race, religion, age, socioeconomic groupings and educational attainment. Colleges and universities in the United States and elsewhere attract young people who are similar in many of these categories. It is little wonder that many students nationwide end up marrying a classmate or some other person attending the same educational institution.While a college or university campus may be a good place to meet a future husband or wife, I caution my students with one particular concern: The college setting and atmosphere is not real life. Meeting and marrying a person without becoming acquainted with his or her family is questionable. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. I often refer to our campus affectionately as the BYU Zoo. You can date and meet others attending the same college, but if you really want to understand the person, you must leave the mythical zoo and go watch them in action in their natural habitat. Bottom line: You should visit and get to know the family that produced the person that you intend to marry.

Students in my classes often disagree with my admonition. Some claim the family from which they emerged is no longer reflective of the kind of person they are now. And the point is well-taken. Some students come from abusive backgrounds or come from disrupted homes, which, they claim, has taken them years of effort and struggle to overcome. Why, they ask, would one want to take a future spouse home to observe such a background?

It is at this point I make my frequent statement that is neither initially understood nor believed: When you marry, you marry the family. What I mean is simply this: When you plan to marry someone, there was a whole network of people attached to or identified with that person long before you met him or her. Such a network includes, obviously, parents, brothers and sisters, extended family members, friends and occasionally former boyfriends/girlfriends. It is wise, I think, to meet these people before a final decision for marriage is made, because such individuals will likely continue to play a vital, though somewhat diminished, role in the life of an intended spouse.

Marriages never have and never will function in a social vacuum. They connect families and friends on both sides. I have often suggested that engaged couples spend time alone with future in-laws or family members to ascertain, to some degree, what it will be like marrying into this particular family. And it can make a difference.

During the years I have been teaching marriage and family classes at various colleges, I have had numerous engaged students leave the campus or "zoo" and make the trek with the person back to the family and the environment in which the intended spouse grew up. They went back to see the natural habitat. Many come back with a new perspective about the person they intended to marry. A few decided not to marry, based on what they experienced. But the majority proceeded with the wedding plans with the renewed and somewhat more realistic perception about their future husband or wife.

Do you "marry the family"? Is it important to get to know each other's families before you marry? I think it is absolutely essential. What do you think? Write to 1036 SWKT, BYU, Provo, UT 84602.