I have noticed that among my family and circle, it was often an excuse for bad behavior: "But I *love* you!" I mused over, for years, how people who presumed to love someone could treat them badly, all the same. Similarily, I didn't know what I actually meant when I said "I love you." "Love" in its purest sense I understand perfectly. By this form of love, I mean "agape." I also understand that mostly, when people say "I love you," they actually mean hormonally, the eros variety. That coin has always been suspect in my universe, because it's a really, really prime excuse for abusive and dysfunctional behavior. People in the thrawl of eros are not rational, and often do stupid or abusive things, because it's them being slaves to some hormonal urge to mate, whether they recognize it on such a basal level or not. Philos...well, that's more like "duty." I understand duty really, really well.
No, the one I have always had trouble with is this undefined thing. But finally, the other day, I realized what most folks mean, and why it makes me uncomfortable. When they say "I love you," it means the rough equivalent of "You evoke a response in me that I interpret as love." That response might be any of a long list of things: longing, desire for fulfillment, a temporary feeling of wholeness, a need to nurture, fulfillment of a desire to dominate, a desire to be healed, etc.
But the bottom line is that it really has nothing to do with the other person. The only person participating in this transaction is the person saying "I love you." It could just as well be a fictional character they are in love with. And often is, even if it's projected onto a living, breathing person. This type of love involves an image, and it flows nowhere except inside the person saying the words. It *might* translate into action, and bring out higher qualities, but that's a separate transaction, and not to be relied upon. And that's not "love," that's "care about," because "care about" implies an interest in the other person's welbeing that "love" does not.
And that's why I'm not comfortable with saying I love someone, and prefer, to those I hold in regard, to say "I care about you." That, I mean.