For me the "L" word carries significant meaning and responsibility and I don't say (or hear) it easily.
I wrote about this when I first told Dude that I loved him in this thread: OMG! I just said the "L" word
Personally I really hate NRE - I don't trust my responses, I don't recognize myself, so I am convinced that the other person has not yet met ME (so how could they "love" me if they only know the NRE me?). For me "love" is something I can only truly acknowledge once the NRE is (finally) over. (Perhaps I shouldn't be so apprehensive - all both
of my NRE experiences led to "love"...)
GG uses "like" as her substitute, mine was "care for" - when Dude would say it to me, before I was ready to reply in kind, I would just smile kindly and say "Thank you."