In my stories, it is a BIG DEAL when my characters profess their love for each other. That's because circumstances within the story have prevented them from admitting their love. Or something in their backstory made them wary of admitting love to themselves or anyone else. And I'm not unique among romance writers. I find this to be true in most of the books I read as well as write.
Does art imitate life? In this case, I'd say probably yes. From my own personal experience, definitely yes.
The DH and I had been dating for over four months before I finally got up the courage to say the BIG "L" WORD to him. To be honest, for several weeks, I thought I only wanted to be "friends" with him. Then I decided okay, I wanted to be "more than friends." But it took him coming down with a fairly serious (and potentially life threatening) illness to make me realize that I really did want to keep him around, and I blurted out the "L" WORD.
For the record, he did NOT say it back for several weeks.
Years later (when faced with my own life threatening health crisis) he did admit that for him, it was "love at first sight" when we met. But saying the "L" word was a VERY BIG DEAL! So maybe I'm old-fashioned, or unrealistic, but I prefer that the "L" word not be thrown around lightly in either fiction or real life.
What about you?