Love at first post

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, February 9, 2012

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(Courtesy photo)

Jennifer Cordova and Shawn Smith who met through the Navajo Times Facebook page.

On Jan. 12, 2011, Shawn Smith was a 39-year-old toxicologist living in Chandler, Ariz., and thinking about his future.

The main thing on his mind was getting out of what was starting to seem like a dead-end relationship.

Interrupting this reverie were texts from friends who had seen his picture on the Navajo Times Facebook page. He had been selected at random as "Fan of the Day."

"I thought, 'That's pretty funny,'" he recalled, not knowing it was about to change his life.

Straight north about 708 miles, in Heber City, Utah, Jennifer Cordova was thinking about her future too. The 35-year-old divorced mother of four had also had a lot of dead-end relationships.

"I'd met some nice guys, but when they found out I had four kids, they weren't interested," she said. "I was thinking, 'I'm not getting any younger. I either do something, or I'm going to end up alone.'"

Jennifer, who is half Diné and half bilagáana, was also thinking a lot about her Navajo heritage.

"You don't meet many Natives up here," she said. "I wanted to connect more with that part of me."

She had recently discovered the Navajo Times Facebook page, where she enjoyed sharing posts with other Diné.

That's what she was doing when she saw Shawn's picture. She stopped dead.

"Something just told me, 'Send him a message,'" she recalled. "I never do that. I'm the opposite of that."

Jennifer took a deep breath. She decided to scan Shawn's Facebook page to see if there were any red flags. There weren't, unless you count Shawn's listing his employment as "Chippendales dancer." She learned he played golf.

"I wrote, 'I think you're cute,'" she recalled. "'Could you teach me how to play golf?'"

Back in Chandler, Shawn was sitting in front of his computer. Jennifer's message popped up.

"That smile!" he recalled. "I don't want to sound cheesy or anything. I was always one of those skeptics. When people would tell me, 'I fell in love at first sight,' I would think, 'That never happens.' But I'm here to tell you it happened to me."

He read Jennifer's message and decided to come clean.

"I'm in a relationship," he wrote, even though, at that moment, he wasn't sure it was true.

"That's OK," came the reply. "We can still be friends."

Back in Heber City, Jennifer was crushed.

"It took a lot for me to get up the courage to write that message," she said. "I didn't want to ruin anybody's relationship. It was really disappointing."

The two continued to message.

"It just seemed like this woman had read my diary," Shawn said. "Everything I had deep inside myself, she was saying out loud."

The second day, Shawn gave Jennifer his phone number and they switched from writing to talking.

"We would talk for two or three hours at a time," Shawn recalled.

The third day, "I was starting to picture a future with this woman," Shawn said.

It was Jennifer's turn to come clean.

"Usually I don't bring up the kids until I know a guy a while," she said. "But he came right out and asked me if I had kids. I said, 'Yes, four. Ages five to 15."

Jennifer waited for the usual stunned silence and excuses to end the conversation. Instead, Shawn said, "Really? I've always wanted to be a dad."

"I was blown away," recalled Jennifer.

"I saw the kids as a plus," Shawn said. "It was like tearing open a package of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and finding an extra one in there."

The two made arrangements to meet on Feb. 13. Jennifer would fly to Chandler.

"He was just as great in person as he was online," Jennifer gushed. "He was fun and giggly, great sense of humor. I felt like I had known him all my life."

Shawn just remembers walking around on Cloud 9. "I had found the woman I wanted a future with, and the chance to be a father," he said. "I was so happy."

Jennifer decided to play a little joke on Shawn. She had found out his clans - Kinyaa'áanii (Towering House) and Tábaahá (Edge Water) - from his mother, so when Shawn asked Jennifer her clans, she named one of his.

"He was so bummed out, I instantly regretted it," she said. "I said, 'No, really, I'm Salt Clan.' He was so excited!"

Jennifer came down again in April, and, at Shawn's insistence, brought the kids. They went to a baseball game and did other family-oriented stuff.

"The kids adored Shawn," Jennifer said. "They were climbing all over him."

"If they had been mean to me, you might be writing a different story," laughed Shawn.

The pair plan to be married in May, but "we haven't worked all the kinks out yet," mused Jennifer. "I love it here. But Chandler seems like a nice place too. And Shawn has a good job. We'll make a marriage somehow."

For now, they're still calling and posting on each other's Facebook pages. Just like when they started out.

As for Shawn, he was Fan of the Day ... and found a fan for life.

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