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Dating app denial: For some couples, the stigma of meeting online still holds

For younger couples especially, it may seem easier to bend the truth about how they met.
Tyler Essary/TODAY

Love is in the air — pinging its way between cell towers and Wi-Fi signals.

Three in 10 Americans say they've used a dating site or app and 12% have married or been in a committed relationship with someone they met online, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. And these numbers have more than doubled since 2013.

But despite the success stories, judgment — especially from older generations — still seems to be an issue.

Bending the truth

To avoid any potential stigma, some daters lie to family members (or avoid telling the full truth) about how they met their significant others.

"I was petrified to tell (my mom) I met my boyfriend on Tinder," New Yorker Lizzy Logan, 22, told TMRW. "So I was like 'We met on Instagram! He followed me and then we were dating,' and she said that was kinda weird."

Later, Logan told her mom the truth — that she met her boyfriend on a dating app — and her mother's reaction was one of concern: questioning why she would ever do that, talking about how it was unsafe and saying she was "not the child her mother raised."

Lizzy Logan

While Logan tried to offer the reassurance that her friends can track her location via her cell phone whenever she goes on dates, her mom is still uncomfortable with the situation, even though Logan has been dating her boyfriend for around nine months. In fact, she says, her mom is now the one who's cagey about the relationship's backstory.

"When she tells her friend that my boyfriend did this, that and another thing and they ask where we met, she says 'Oh I don't remember,'" Logan said.

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Selectively explaining

Not all parents are as apprehensive about dating apps. While safety is an understandable concern, the recent report from Pew indicates that about half of Americans think online dating is a safe way to meet people and that figure only increases when looking at adults under age 50. According to the study, the perception of safety is tied to both age and past experience using online dating.

Trinity Smith, 19, a student at Arizona State, has been open with her mom about her experience using dating apps, which she turned to last summer before entering her freshman year of college. Even though she attended a huge university, she found it hard to connect with people in person.

Trinity Smith

"I honestly thought back in August when I started that I was going to met all these guys and go to parties and go on all these dates and meet someone," Smith told TMRW. "That's truly not how it works anymore. I remember I met one guy in my class and we went on a date and it went terribly."

Smith met her current boyfriend James on Bumble. While she's been happy to answer her mom's questions about how dating apps work, she avoids the conversation with older relatives.

"I definitely always say we met through mutual friends when I'm talking to my grandma or grandpa," she said. "They're just so old to the point where they will kind of counsel you on your decision. They won't make fun of you for it but they just don't get it at all, and that's harder."

Embracing the story

Ida and Gianni from Chicago, who asked to be identified by their first names only, have been seeing each other for six months. They met on the dating app Ship, which allows users to invite their friends onto the app to help pick out the best match.

Gianni A.

"For my extended family, I don't really fear ... telling them we met on an app," Ida told TMRW. "That's how a lot of relationships are nowadays.

"That's how our generation is. We want to meet people because it's so dang hard to meet people now," she said.

Coming from a big Italian family, Gianni said his family members have asked why he couldn't find someone without an app.

"While I can, it's kinda like Facebook," he explained. "It makes the world a smaller place. I wouldn't have been able to have matched with Ida because she lives in a different town than I am and we don't work in the same town. It gives me more opportunities to have met her."

The new normal

While some young couples worry about the stigma that comes with online dating, the data shows that it's becoming more widely accepted, even among older age groups.

Among young adults 18-29 years old, 48% say they've used a dating site or app. That figure goes down to 38% when you get into the 30-49 range, but even in the 65+ age range, 13% said they have used a dating site or app.

Ida looks at how her parents met, working at a grocery store together, and sometimes wishes she could have met Gianni that way. But she believes it's no longer as natural for singles outside of college to meet under those kinds of circumstances. "Everyone's glued to their phones," she explained.

As online dating grows across all age ranges, it's not just a normal way to date or meet people — for some, it might feel like the only option.

So go ahead and tell your grandparents you met someone on an app — they'll probably be just as excited as you are!