"Buffy was in love with Spike the moment their hands clasped.” - Joss Whedon
Note: What follows is, of course, colored by my opinion, and in no way is intended to invalidate anybody else’s. I simply wanted to explain how I see S7 Spike&Buffy.
One thing that I confront fairly frequently in my exploration of everything Spuffy on the Internet is the idea that Spike was right when he told Buffy she didn’t love him (“Chosen”). At first glance, this makes sense. Spike has always been able to see through what Buffy says to what she really means. Remember “Lovers Walk”? “I can’t fool myself - or Spike, for some reason”. This is one reason he becomes her confidant in early Season 6 - he understands her without explanation.
I see a problem with this frame of logic, however. Why would Buffy tell him she loved him if she really didn’t? The obvious explanation would be to ease his suffering, to give him the “crumb” he was looking for all the way back in “Crush”. That would also explain why she would only tell him at the last minute, when things were dire. Still, in my eyes, I cannot reconcile this with Buffy’s character.
Why? Because she never told Riley she loved him.
If she was capable of telling Spike she loved him even if she didn’t, why not Riley? Was she really willing to sacrifice more to ease the momentary pain of a vampire who tried to kill her on multiple occasions and attempted to rape her only the year before than to keep her relationship with a “good guy” who admitted he cheated on her because he didn’t believe she loved him?
Over and over again, Buffy is careful not to use the word “love” about Riley. He tells Xander in “The Replacement” that he believes Buffy doesn’t love him, and even when he leaves in “Into the Woods” she never says it, even to herself. The generally accepted explanation for this is that she could never love anyone the way she loved Angel, and, of course, she has seen the kind of damage love can do.
In Season 7, she behaves much in the same way toward Spike. When questioned about her feelings, she tells Dawn that she “feels for Spike” (“Him”), and admits to Angel that Spike is “in [her] heart” (“Chosen”). Yet in “First Date”, she asks, “Why does everyone in this house think I’m still in love with Spike?” (emphasis added). Whoa. So she is willing to admit a past-tense love of Spike, just not present.
When Spike confesses his feelings to her in “Touched”, she does not reciprocate the “I love you”. She does not use the phrase “I love you” in a romantic sense from the time Angel leaves until “Chosen”. Why would she use it only then, if she didn’t earnestly feel love toward Spike, at least in that moment? Buffy’s mental block about those three little words were a major catalyst for the disintegration of the Buffy/Riley relationship, so it seems unlikely that she would suddenly become cavalier about them now. She would only use those words if she genuinely meant them, and she does not take her feelings lightly. She meant it: she loved Spike.