Ah, the constant question, the constant debate... what is that sweet feeling that fills you up, makes you light as a feather, makes the world look a little brighter?
The Yeti and I often discuss this topic. I used to have the patent answer: "Love is the strongest feeling, you just know when you love someone." Well, do you?
We use love so glibly in our society, I just "love" that dress, I really "love" that band, I "love" Italian food, I "love" you... but what does it really mean? If love means sacrifice and commitment; would you put yourself in front of a charging bull to save a dress? Would you fly across the country to save the lead singer in that band? Would you only eat Italian food?
So, when you say, "I love you", how then is the person to know where they fit in all that? Is it just something we say? Does it actually exist? We've probably seen or heard of the man who says I love you, as he beats his wife/spouse/girlfriend/child unconscious.
I think I was lucky to get a glimpse and very deep understanding of this love that we all talk about. I had some minor surgery of late and was laid up in bed for a week. The Yeti took care of me. You must understand, that letting someone look after me is very difficult, trusting someone not to leave when you are lying there, helpless... wow! Anyway, it occurred to me that love is putting aside your stuff, and being there for the other person. That the trust can be counted on, that compassion and caring can come first, that dedication over time strengthens the bond, if you let it. You don't lose definition, you don't become the other person, nor lose yourself, your life is better because you let someone in, close to you, and trust them to see you in all your bad breath, bad hair, gassy, unshaven, pimply, ... , glory!
You trust them to fight honestly with you, to say the things that bug them, and let you say the things that bug you, not because you are being mean and petty, or hurtful, but because things need resolving and growth. They allow you to grow and discover yourself and become more of the person you want to be. They do kitty litter duty, when you absolutely can't; even when agreements were signed, notarized and filed that they wouldn't have to do this.
I agree with the Yeti that love=time, you develop your definition of love for each person, or animal that you spend time with, in differing degrees. You commit yourself to the process, and the process brings you to a deeper level. This process can only be taken with someone who is as committed as you, though, so pick your partners wisely and honestly. Love is a true emotion, and won't bear up under falsehoods, these are the thing that erode the very stuff of love. Treat love with respect, just as you would the person you love.
P.S. All this love stuff, also applies to animals.