I cradle my puppy as I bring her home at seven weeks old. She instinctively responds to the name my girlfriend and I chose months ago: “Oliana.” My voice is not too low for her to register and she does not prefer my girlfriend's higher voice, nurturing personality, or friendly persona.

When my girlfriend walks away, she doesn’t follow her. She stays with me because I’m nurturing and friendly and like, super cool. And when my girlfriend leaves for work, she doesn’t look at me with a disappointed sigh. She looks at me with the puppy eyes from stock photos.

When I sit on the floor, trying to convince her that I am the best, I do not feel like the second favorite of two people. I do not internalize this feeling and question my inherent nature or self-worth. This does not motivate me to compete with my girlfriend for puppy love. I do not make a vow to myself to be the favorite parent. We are a family.

She’s such a good girl she only chews the toys we give her, and she chews them gently. She does not chew the face off a $30 stuffed sloth within minutes. Nor does she tear my favorite shirt or bite my hands till they bleed. I ask my girlfriend, “Does this happen to you too?” She confirms. “OK good, we’re even,” I whisper to myself.

In the backyard, we do not coincidentally find a dead rabbit with a missing face like her sloth. She is a perfect angel with a mouth full of razors. Like a stuffed animal with piranha teeth.

Although her teeth are sharp, socialization is critical for her personal development. So we introduce her to babies and young children whose toys look identical to hers. They play nice together, and my puppy and the baby learn whose toy belongs to whom. It’s nature's way.

She has one accident, then learns to walk towards the back door and ring a bell to signal she has to go outside. She never again pees, defecates, or barfs on the white carpet. The house smells like springtime.

And “puppy breath” is just as lovely as people say. It’s hot. Like, so hot. Is she OK? We go to the vet, spend a reasonable amount of money, and she’s fine.

My back feels great because I am not constantly bending over to take her up and down the stairs. She is an honest pup and never has me carry her outside unless she has to go. I do not feel outsmarted by a black lab puppy. She is clever but I am an adult with a Roth IRA. But the vet bills do cut into my monthly contributions.

After some quality time together, she understands that I have been “idle” on Teams for 45 minutes and need to work. My manager does not sense a slip in my performance and my anxiety is appropriate. Rather than messaging, “Apologies for the delay,” I sent a picture of my puppy being cute. My manager sees the photo but does not respond.

I definitely did not expect her to aggressively hump her bed but I don’t judge and let her do her thing.

After a few more vet visits and more very reasonable hundreds of dollars, she is fully vaccinated so she can explore parks. She’s smart and avoids eating rocks, garbage, glass, nails, condoms, and bloody tampons because Lord knows I can’t afford another vet bill right now. She smells grass and I do not have to wonder about what the hell is happening in this park. I mean, kids play soccer here.

Before bed, my girlfriend and I do not argue about who took her out last. We sleep soundly and do not wake up every two to three hours to take her out in the winter breeze. Spending thousands on a puppy whose needs rival a newborn baby was a great idea that neither of us felt pressured into. Neither of us caved to make the other happy. Neither of us naively asked, “How hard can it be?” Or foolishly said, “All I have to do is stay one step ahead of a puppy.” And has been playing catch up ever since.

I do not lie awake thinking about the breeder's return policy, regretting the hard launch on Instagram, potentially ending my relationship, and never having kids so I can live a life with no responsibilities. Possibly in a foreign country. A real fresh start.

I sleep with a smile on my face because tomorrow brings a new adventure full of learning, laughs, and hot puppy breath.

Maybe one day, when things calm down, she could have a sibling. But an older one because there's no way I’m doing this again.