At the top of the page, I wrote, “Mom.” Then the names of my four closest girlfriends: Liz, Leah, Carly and Courtney. Then my best guy friend; I’d asked him to be my best man years before I knew whom I’d marry. (My husband picked a best man, too.) Then came my aunt’s names and so on until I’d listed the 25 people I love the most, in descending order.

My husband and I wanted a small wedding, but we had not decided exactly how small, so I was writing a guest list that could be trimmed from the bottom. It was a task requiring more reflection and soul-searching than I expected. A wedding centers around two people anointing each other as the most important person in their lives.

But when a wedding is small, a couple has to evaluate and categorize all of their relationships. For the bride, that includes deciding which of your female friends are important enough to be stuffed into matching dresses. Of those chosen few, who will be singled out to have the word “honor” added to her title?

Then for the friends that don’t make the bridal-party cut, which ones are important to have present and which would just be nice to include? I hope none of my friends see my wedding guest list, because I can’t imagine scanning someone else’s list to find myself at No. 15, or, God forbid, No. 25, without squirming. Friendship has not been this political since middle school birthday-party invite lists.

We planned to have a small, family-only dinner the night before the wedding. But that idea was scrapped when my husband didn’t understand that the four women whose names came right after my mother’s would still be present at a family-only affair. He has a solid, traditional family — two parents, a grandmother who lives with them and two sisters. They have a pack mentality, putting each other above any and everyone else in the world. It’s an enviable arrangement, but it’s completely alien to me.

My mother had only recently kicked a heroin addiction when she became a single parent, and it was a long time before she got a handle on the mental illness that chased her into it. As much as I was a wreck during my teenage years, she was just as lost. I did not have the same sense of security in my home that my husband understands or the same meaning of family. So I found it elsewhere.

I am lucky enough to have a group of friends that give me that feeling of pack security. If your family consists of the people you can run home to when you’re in trouble, the people who won’t abandon you even when you’re a pain in the butt, then Liz, Leah, Carly and Courtney are my family.

Before my husband and I embarked on our happily ever after, he broke my heart as it had never been broken — and my friends are the ones that got me through it. This happy ending is their victory, too. So their names go right after my mother’s on the list.

After the first few nonnegotiable guests, I moved on to a few people that I would like to have there: a co-worker I’m close with, an old friend I recently reconnected with. Then I wrote the names of some longtime friends I felt obligated to invite, even though we had not been particularly close in a while. Putting their names at the end of this list put into black and white the status of our friendship. As soon as I realized they were on the list out of obligation, while everyone else was there because I love them and want them to celebrate with me, I crossed them off.

Once I’d removed these friends that were in my life out of habit or obligation, I started wondering why they were in my life at all. If I didn’t want them at my wedding, even the largest version of it, were they really my friends? I cut ties with three people after answering this question for myself.

Before invitations were even sent, my guest list had helped me to define my family and to cull energy-sucking friends from my life. It made it clear not just on paper — but in my heart and mind — who matters most.