“I remember actively disliking her because she was so strongly opinionated that ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ was a horrible book,” he says. “I was convinced that she was just kind of a nasty person because she didn’t think that book was very funny.”
The next time they ran into each other at a bar, they stumbled onto the topic of “Moby-Dick,” a book they both loved. “And that, for me, kind of erased some of the lingering bad taste from our first meeting,” Bernhardt recalls.
Neither interaction left a particularly strong impression on Mathews, who was in a relationship. But over winter break, she and her boyfriend parted ways and she came back for spring semester a single woman.
Mathews was friends with Bernhardt’s roommate and accepted an invitation to a potluck dinner at their house. While Bernhardt was in another room, she listened to his friends talk about how much he needed a girlfriend.
“I was thinking, ‘hmmm.’ . . .
And then I noticed his record collection, which was really eclectic. And he was funny,” she says. “That’s the first time I remember noticing him.”
Mathews had no interest in starting a new relationship, but when Bernhardt asked for her number between classes a few days later, she happily shared it. And when he called on a Friday afternoon, asking her to dinner that night, she accepted, although she wasn’t sure it was a date.
By they time they showed up at the restaurant, he was nervous and she was frazzled from rushing to get ready. But once they sat down, an easy rapport emerged.
“Conversation just flowed, and we’re both fairly reserved when we meet new people, so for us it was pretty effusive,” he says.
They continued the evening with drinks at a bar and, before parting ways, she gave him a kiss. “I hadn’t had a date for a while, so this exceeded my wildest expectations,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, is this what I’ve been missing? This is fantastic.’ I was thrilled.”
Mathews tried not to overthink the budding romance and was happy to join Bernhardt, then a second-year student, on excursions he planned around the city. “We were going to so many places that I had never been because Chris was just really adventurous,” says Mathews, who was in her first year of law school.
They spent Mardi Gras together, and Mathews was surprised, later that spring, to hear Bernhardt call her his girlfriend. But she didn’t object. And by the time he left New Orleans to spend the summer working in Washington, they were committed to making it work.
While they were apart, Mathews, who specialized in animal protection law and had been a longtime vegetarian, decided to become a vegan. On a visit, Bernhardt suggested they buy a cheese tamale at a street fair and was surprised when she declined.