scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Why I owe my marriage to bad spelling

With typos and grammar bloopers in my college applications, it was no surprise I was rejected by my first-choice college. Not getting what I wanted turned out to be a blessing.

The writer and his girlfriend (now wife), Katie, in Rome, where she was studying art in the summer of 1999.Courtesy of Allan Telio

I can’t spell. I can’t proofread. I am not just a member of the bad speler’s club, I’m the president.

Throughout high school, my English teachers would return my assignments dripping red with notes like, “Good ideas but please double-check your work,” and “Nice concept BUT PLEASE PROOFREAD!” I suppose they were right, but at the time I only processed the first words of their comments: “Good! . . . ”Nice!”

But that’s all OK. The fact that I can’t spell or proofread is the reason I met my wife.

At the start of my senior year in high school, my parents decided that I would attend the same college my brother did. I would apply early, get into that school, and follow in his footsteps. It would be perfect. Not only would I get a good education, I would also be close to home. No one informed the university of my parents’ plan, however, and my application was rejected.

How could that happen? Didn’t they know who I was? I scoured my application to understand where they went wrong. I found my answer. My essays read like they were written by a drunken monkey randomly hammering letters on a keyboard. There were typos, missing words, incomplete sentences, and a general carelessness that can only be accomplished by an overconfident 17-year-old boy who thinks he writes well. Apparently, the university staff knew exactly who I was. If I were them, I would have lit my application on fire and mailed me the ashes. To their credit, they kept the ashes and mailed me a rejection letter.


“Allan, you’re going to need a new plan. Let’s make a list of where to apply,” said Mrs. Schnell, my high school guidance counselor. She was an aging hippie with long, frizzy, gray-white hair, an office buried in foot-high stacks of paper, and a deep love for helping students find themselves. She was a lighthouse of calm and support.


“Also,” she told me, “I want you to apply to this other school. It’s great. Everyone who goes there loves it.”

“But it’s in Missouri,” I replied, staring at the brochure. “My parents won’t let me go.”

“We’ll deal with that if they accept you. Now go apply.”

Six months later, I was in St. Louis moving into my freshman dorm at Washington University. It was mid-August — swampy and stifling. I unpacked and wandered the halls of my dorm. I passed the room of a girl who was moving in. Her dad was tinkering with her desktop computer, trying to figure out how to connect it to the school Ethernet. I asked if I could help.

This made no sense and still doesn’t; I know even less about computers than I do about spelling. He started talking about cables, permissions, investment opportunities...honestly, I had no idea because I stopped listening. Sitting next to the window was a very exasperated-looking girl with short blond hair. She was absolutely dripping sweat. Her eyes said, Dad, stop talking. Please stop.

I extended my hand and introduced myself. “Hi, my name is Allan. It’s nice to meet you.” She side-eyed me, grunted, and stared forward. The neckline of her T-shirt was growing dark from the sweat. I have that effect on women.

My wife, of course, doesn’t remember the first time we met. That’s another effect I have on women. She does remember the second time we met, though, and how we became best friends within the first few weeks of college. How we eventually started dating and ultimately fell in love, got married, and had two kids.


None of this would have happened if I had followed the plan I was handed.

In the end, it worked out pretty well. She proofread the story that you’re reading.

Allan Telio is a writer in Newton. Send comments to TELL YOUR STORY. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.