12/12/2012 05:58 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Beauty of Three

Winter is a marvelous time to visit Austria. Hubby and I went straight into the mountains for a weekend of spa pleasures. Wonderful scenery, hot Glühwein, amazing food and plenty of snow. Too much snow, really. My feet are still cold.

Yet despite the many tourists, this is not exactly a place where you'd expect adventures on social apps. What we found when we at last got the wifi to work was quite a surprise. Local lads Daniel and Peter (not their real names), both in their 20s, were looking for a third -- not to hook up for après-ski bum fun but for a permanent relationship. So we met for dinner and a snowball fight.

Daniel turned out to be a lanky dirt-blond, a sweet kid with large, winning eyes and a mouth worth kissing. His boyfriend of two years was shorter, darker, a little chubby, almost Mediterranean looking, with a button nose and the sort of adorable baby face that turns heads anywhere, including on ski slopes.

We shared gnocchi with cheese and a traditional plate of roasted potatoes with bacon, and over several glasses of good wine we learned why they thought that happiness lay in the arms of a third person. Even after listening to them for three hours, it was hard to pinpoint exactly what it was, but let me try: They believe that two people end up relying too much on each other and have no outlet for the fears and anxieties of a relationship, and sexually, well, they both reckon -- with reason -- that a male body has two ends that both need attention.

The relationship argument intrigued me more than the sexual aspect of a threesome, with which I am sufficiently familiar. It is true that with one partner, there are certain things you can't discuss so easily, especially while you are young and inexperienced, because you are afraid of hurting your lover. Trust and openness need such a long time to grow. My husband and I have gone through periods of little intimacy and temporary alienation. It sometimes takes months to identify, analyze and overcome a particular problem. As a couple, you only have each other to work things out.

With a third person, such difficult stretches would be easier to overcome. Then there is a third person to turn to, to help resolve conflicts and mediate, perhaps. I really like the idea. But wouldn't a triangle also create new problems? Jealousies that only emerge over time, or a preference for one partner over the other?

"Not if you love each other," Daniel and Peter said, rejecting my concerns.

I was intrigued by how a threesome would work in a small place like this. "Are you out?" I asked.

And then I got an earful about how impossible it is to be "out" in rural Austria, how conservative people were, how utterly ludicrous the idea of living an openly gay life was. "You can do that in many countries, like Germany or the UK, but here in Austria you cannot admit that you are gay."

Of course that's not true. We know plenty of out people in Vienna. And rural settings are difficult for gays everywhere, not just in the Alps. But the combination is intriguing: an entirely alternative lifestyle -- three men in a permanent love triangle is what they want, and yet they are trying to keep it all hidden from the world. Men are a curious bunch. That's why I am writing this column.

Daniel and Peter are still full of life, expecting great things. We spoke about gay marriage. As expected, they weren't keen on the idea. "You can do that in America, and in big cities," they said. "But we want to live here, in the countryside. There'll never be gay marriage here."

And even if the social revolution we are witnessing will one day make it to St. Johann, there is another problem: "Who would marry three guys? Impossible! We really want to live with a third guy."

I told them of my book Bodensee, which dangles the prospect of a three-way marriage at the end of the book.

"Nice idea, but only in books!" they replied.

I know of only one other mention of a successful threesome in literature. Frederick Pohl's Gateway is a great science-fiction novel featuring three gay men in an interstellar long-term relationship. I promised to send Daniel and Peter my copy, which I have now done, so that they may dream about a future where on spaceships, three guys can love each other without the need of closets, however beautifully handcrafted and painted they may be in this part of the mountains. (The furniture in our hotel was simply stunning!)

"Yeah, you see, what we want is really in the realm of fiction," they told me. "We haven't had any luck finding a boyfriend. Plenty of hot tourists to spend a few days with us, but..."

At midnight, overlooking the valley and thoroughly entranced by the white landscape, the lights, the crisp air and the presence of two such beautiful boys hungry for life, we had a big snowball fight. Real snowballs, not what you are thinking, because Daniel and Peter are certainly not into foursomes!

"A foursome? No, that would be weird. The beauty of three is that two can concentrate on one. With four guys, you end up in two couples. Three: That's the perfect number."