Best friends think they know what’s best, don’t they?

Quit that job, a bestie might tell you. Dump that guy. Buy that dress.

They’re not being bossy, per se. They just know us well enough (and have enough distance from our dilemmas) to see when we’re undervalued, underappreciated or in danger of passing up an excellent deal.

Over the past decade, Janelle Norman would nudge her best friend, Sarah Raison, to date her other longtime friend Nolan Buro. Nolan and Sarah were occasionally in the same room — they’d see each other at parties and were both at Janelle’s wedding in 2010. But rarely were they single at the same time, and they lived hours from each other: Sarah in Houston and Nolan in Austin. Still, Nolan passed the best-friend test. “I don’t think he has a mean bone in his whole body,” Janelle says of Nolan. “He’s just funny and fun.”

Once the pandemic hit, that seed of an idea Janelle had planted years ago finally started to bloom.

In late March 2020, Sarah tagged Nolan on Facebook, asking whether he had a James Iha album from the early 2000s that she couldn’t find streaming anywhere. He sent over the audio files. Later, in a Facebook Messenger group chat with Janelle, Nolan and another mutual friend, Sarah made her move. “My phone number is on my email," she wrote him, “and you are allowed to abuse it or just use it if you want to talk or need anything.”

They started texting — first about music and then about the difficulty of following covid restrictions while living alone, a quiet existence their married friends just didn’t understand.

“Someone who says, ‘I’m just checking in on you,’ and they’re in their house with their family … it’s not the same as someone who’d been alone for 90 days,” Sarah recalls of her conversations with other friends in the pandemic’s early days.

Nolan, however, got it. After all those years of being in the same room and rarely talking one-on-one, they were suddenly texting “every day, all day,” Sarah recalls. Those texts became phone calls. Eventually Nolan suggested that they watch a movie together, on their separate couches 167 miles away, and chat about it afterward. He chose “Extra Ordinary,” a 2020 comedy about people who talk to ghosts, which he thought would make Sarah laugh.

It was a classic pandemic first date, though neither of them recognized it as such. It was just the way people were hanging out at the time. In the weeks afterward, as their conversations became more flirtatious and a tad more emotional, Nolan said he wished he and Sarah could go on a simple walk together. She took the opening to suggest she visit him in Austin.

"You would really do that?” Sarah recalls Nolan responding.

“Yeah, I would really do that,” she told him.

“He was so surprised,” Sarah says now. “He never thought it was in the realm of possibility.”

By the time she arrived for a weekend-long visit, they were both nervous. What if the connection Sarah and Nolan had forged from afar didn’t hold up in person? “Are we building this up so much?,” Sarah wondered.

The pace of pandemic dating can feel simultaneously slow and fast: Two people may spend dozens of hours on phone calls and video chats, go weeks or months without seeing one another. And then, when they are in the same room, it’s a lot of togetherness with few distractions.

To prepare, Nolan bought puzzles, planned a meal he could cook and a place where they could order takeout. “I hadn’t been in a room with anyone in 120 days," Nolan recalls of the social distancing they were about to break. "And I’m about to have a three-day-long first date.”

After several months of not touching anyone, their first hug felt “so strange and so important,” Nolan recalls. It led seamlessly into their first kiss. They spent the weekend watching “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The conversation flowed as easily as it had over the phone, and they covered a lot of ground. “We had mentioned long-term things that we wanted,” Sarah recalls, including the fact that she’d always wanted a family. “I was very clear with him: Having a biological family — adopting, fostering — were all things I had considered.” Nolan didn’t have as clear of a picture for his future. But after losing his sales and marketing job in March 2020, he was open to big life changes.

By the end of the weekend, it was official: They were boyfriend and girlfriend. Janelle had gotten it right.

In the months that followed, the all-or-nothing nature of long-distance dating wasn’t easy, Nolan recalls. However, with the rest of their social lives at a standstill — without parties, concerts or out-of-state travel — their relationship progressed at lightning speed. The slow pace of pandemic life “gave us a lot of focused time since we weren’t doing a lot of other social things,” Sarah notes. Every few weeks, Sarah would drive to Austin; they’d spend the weekend together and then she’d bring Nolan back to Houston with her for a week or so.

When they told Janelle, she was thrilled. “Two of my very favorite people getting together ... what more could I want?!,” Janelle says.

Four months into dating, Sarah and Nolan made their first plans for a getaway beyond their respective homes to celebrate Nolan’s 39th birthday at a cabin about an hour outside of Austin. A few days before the trip, Sarah texted Nolan on his birthday, asking if he could hop on a Zoom as soon as possible. When they logged on, Sarah looked as if she’d been crying. She reassured him: “I’m not breaking up with you,” she said. “I understand that I look devastating, like something’s wrong, but we just need to talk.”

Sarah told Nolan that she was pregnant.

“I was pretty dumbfounded at first,” Nolan recalls, “but I was happy in a way that I was kind of surprised by.”

They were expecting a child together but had skipped most of the rituals of a new relationship: They’d never gone out to dinner at a restaurant, seen a movie in a theater, attended a party together or been on a double-date. When Sarah and Nolan arrived at the cabin a few days later, Nolan told her for the first time that he loved her. She wrapped her arms around him, repeating “I love you, I love you, I love you" into his ear. They decided that he would move in with her in Houston, where Sarah owns a home.

They moved in together very quickly but were still enduring long stretches of isolation away from their friends and family, “basically the opposite of what you’re supposed to do to have a healthy, normal life,” Sarah, who’s 38, notes. “It was a lot of getting to know the other person, but we’re not 22. We’ve lived with other people before. We know that yes, the other person is going to be annoying and you still love them and they still love you.”

Before welcoming baby Martha in June, Sarah and Nolan had been through several pandemic hardships. Nolan was out of work for a year before his company hired him back in April 2021. Sarah’s brother died in December 2020 and her grandfather passed away a month or two later. Sarah’s pregnancy was high-risk, and she had to change doctors multiple times: One of them moved away while treating her. Sarah and Nolan were living together when Texas froze in February 2021, a moment that made Nolan especially grateful to have Sarah by his side. “I found this amazing connection with someone," he says, which first made the loneliness of the pandemic easier to bear. Then, thought of enduring a power and heat outage while also still living alone in Austin, “I don’t know what I would have done,” Nolan adds.

Sarah says the intensity of 24/7 togetherness feels similar to the nonstop nature of parenthood. “Everything happened so quickly and everything changed so quickly,” Sarah says. “But it was so good.”

Two months before they became parents, Sarah and Nolan, both freshly vaccinated, finally felt safe dining outdoors at a restaurant. “It was our first time to get to do a normal couple thing,” Nolan says, adding that there was “first-date energy” in the air. He had a ring and thought about proposing that night, but decided to hold off.

A month after Martha was born — on their first anniversary of dating — Nolan proposed in the place where they’ve spent most of their relationship: Their home. “He just very sweetly asked me: ‘After everything we’ve been through, can we make it official?’,” Sarah recalls. “Of course I said ‘yes.’” They’re looking at wedding venues and are planning to get married sometime in 2022.

Janelle hasn’t seen Nolan and Sarah together yet. But when she met Martha over Zoom the week after she was born, Janelle reminded the new parents of the role she’d played in creating their family.

“Just remember," she told them. "I did that.”

READ MORE: