What exactly does "Te quiero mucho" mean/imply?

On Saturday night, I ran into my old boyfriend, Miguel who is from Mexico. I see him from time to time, out an about, and whenever we see each other, the sparks are definitely there. So, after we parted on Saturday night, he sent me a text message which said, ‘Te quiero mucho, Eric”. I know some Spanish and know about the Taco Bell commercial, etc. But, what exactly does “te quiero mucho” mean? Some people I know (native Spanish speakers) have said it means “I want you a lot” and some say that it means “I like you a lot”. Which is it?

I think it’s supposed to be taken as “I really love you”. Saying “I want you” in English is more direct than the literal Spanish translation is meant to be. I think this phrase is polite.

Querer does mean to want, but when used with a person (i.e. “Te quiero”), it usually means “I love/really like you”. I’d translate “Te quiero mucho” as “I love you” or “I really love you”, definitley.

Hmmm…Mexican origin? Probably means I like you a lot / love you. If you were dating or more and he loved you, he’d probably say Te amo.

My ex-bf used te quiero to mean I want you, but I think that was more of a him thing.

“I’d like a fish taco and some burritos, please.”

Loosely translated, it means “lets play hide the chalupa”.

I suspect it’s the same deal as in French. * Je t’aime* means “I love you,” whereas Je t’aime bien means, “I’m very fond of you” – or in other words, something less than “I love you.” It’s weird that the intensifier of bien actually serves as a deintensifier in this usage.

Awaiting confirmation from Nava

As I understand it (as a non-native, well, non-speaker of Spanish who has heard this discussion several times in the past among native speakers), te quiero is actually a less intense expression emotionally than te amo. While it literally means “I want you”, it could also be translated “I long for you” or “I think of you a lot”, though if said in the proper context and tone could still come across as what in English sounds like something fairly lustful. It’s an expression of instantaneous love (“I’m loving you”, if you will), whereas te amo is suggestive of a more permanent, eternal love (yo te quiero, pero El Señor te ama).

The difference could be regional (i.e., Mexico vs. DR vs. PR vs. Venezuela etc.), but I’ve also heard it explained this way: “I would say te amo and not te quiero to my cousin, you figure it out”.
FWIW, Yahoo! Answers had this to say on the subject.

My Peruvian fiancée once explained it as te quiero being a more passionate/intimate/playful expression of love/desire and te amo being more “mushy” for lack of a better phrase. You might tell your mother te amo but you probably wouldn’t tell her te quiero.

Other bits of Latin America may have different rules. YMMV.

Oh, and I just remembered why I had quoted Sal Ammoniac’s comment about French: as an en passant warning to anyone learning French, while the noun un baiser is “a kiss”, the verb baiser does NOT mean “to kiss” (at least, a person-to-person kiss; apparently a meaning like “kissing the Pope’s ring” is still unambiguous). If you want a kiss, say “embrasse-moi”… Saying baise-moi is pretty dirty.

My wife is from central Mexico and we live on the US/Mexico border. The usage is the same in both areas.

She says “te quiero” to her close female friends, her sisters, and her sons. It means “I love you” … but like you would say to your mother.

She uses “te amo” only with me. It is the romantic/lover “I love you”.

When I was first learning spanish I had a difficult time with these two phrases. My wife cured me of this by asking “Are you mad at me?” every time I would say “te quiero”.